On Friday, the cabinet adopted the Health Council’s advice on who should be the first to receive a future corona vaccine. It is not yet known how many vaccines the Netherlands will need in total before the measures can be lifted. These are the main factors that will determine this.
It is certain that, as soon as there is a corona vaccine, we will not have enough vaccines in one go to vaccinate the whole of the Netherlands at once. Fortunately, it is probably not necessary to vaccinate everyone to be able to abolish the corona measures. How many people do need to be vaccinated for this will largely depend on the vaccine.
What about group immunity?
In the most ideal situation, as few people as possible are susceptible to the corona virus, so that there is group immunity. The virus can then infect too few people to spread properly and therefore no longer cause major outbreaks.
You can get resistance against the coronavirus in two ways: after infection and after a vaccine. Hans Heesterbeek, professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Utrecht University, previously explained to NU.nl that at least 50 to 60 percent of Dutch people may need to have resistance to the coronavirus in order to achieve herd immunity. Without a vaccine, group immunity is far from in sight, according to Heesterbeek.
How much a vaccine can contribute to group immunity depends on the number of vaccines available, the efficacy of the vaccines and the willingness to vaccinate. Moreover, we do not yet know whether long-term group immunity is feasible. We do not yet know how long you will be protected against the corona virus after infection or vaccination.
Group immunity probably not necessary for downscaling measures
Group immunity may also not be necessary to protect the Netherlands sufficiently against the corona virus in order to be able to let go of a large part of the measures. Ben van der Zeijst, emeritus professor of Vaccinology at the LUMC, told Thursday in the NU.nl podcast This will be the news that he expects that if the group at relatively high risk of a serious course of COVID-19 is vaccinated, we will be able to loosen the reins to a large extent.
“I don’t expect any disastrous consequences myself. However, we do have to keep a close eye on what is happening, and the release of the measures must be done step by step.”
How well does it work in the elderly?
How quickly measures can be released will largely depend on the final vaccine. The Health Council emphasized on Thursday that it is important that if you first vaccinate the elderly and other vulnerable people, the vaccine must be effective in preventing serious illness and death in these groups.
It is known that vaccines often work less well in the elderly because the immune system works less well. Whether this will also pose a problem with the corona vaccine is still unclear. The developer of one of the possible corona vaccines, Pfizer, announced on Wednesday that their corona vaccine also appears to be very effective in people over 65.
Based on what we now know, the Health Council recommends first vaccinating people over 60 and people with serious conditions. The cabinet announced on Friday that it would adopt this advice.
Does the vaccine also prevent spread?
The Health Council has also developed alternative vaccination strategies. For example, in the event that there are very few coronavirus infections by the time the vaccination is started. In this situation, according to the Health Council, you may want to prevent the corona virus from flaring up again, and it can therefore help to be the first to vaccinate the groups that have many social contacts and can therefore easily spread the corona virus.
With this strategy, it is necessary that the vaccine not only prevents you from becoming ill from the corona virus, but also ensures that you cannot spread it further. Whether the vaccines actually do this is still being investigated.
How many vaccines do we need?
Because not everything is known about the vaccines, it is therefore not possible to say how many vaccines are needed to say goodbye to all corona measures. For the vaccination strategy that the Health Council is currently recommending, the vaccines must initially be made available to approximately 5 million Dutch people.
However, the cabinet expects that 3.5 million Dutch people will be able to get vaccinated in the first quarter of 2021. The first vaccines will therefore be made available to residents of nursing homes and people with intellectual disabilities living in an institution. If they are unable to receive the vaccination, healthcare personnel working with them will be vaccinated. Then it is the turn of the over-60s with a serious condition, starting with the oldest people.
The success of this vaccination strategy will of course also depend on how many people are willing to get vaccinated.