VEGHEL, Netherlands (Reuters) – A Dutch nurse on Wednesday became the first person in the Netherlands to receive a COVID-19 shot as the European Union’s last vaccination programme for the new coronavirus began after a late start.
Sanna Elkadiri, a 39-year-old who cares for dementia patients at a care home in the south of the country, received a shot of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on live television.
“This is the beginning of the end of this crisis,” said Health Minister Hugo de Jonge at a brief ceremony.
Elkadiri said she didn’t hesitate after being offered the chance to get the shot, travelling to a converted distribution centre capable of conducting hundreds of vaccinations per week.
Public anger swelled over the weekend and opinion polls showed support for the government waning after it became apparent the Netherlands was last among major European countries to begin vaccinations.
In a debate in parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte defended the slow roll out.
“The main problem was that we got it sooner than we had expected,” Rutte said, referring to regulatory approval for a vaccine. “It was a different vaccine (than we had expected)…making it impossible to be flexible.”
The Dutch government thought the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would be approved first, though Rutte did not explain why. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to become the second COVID-19 vaccine endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) later on Wednesday.
After a review, the Dutch government and National Institute for Health (RIVM) dropped plans to vaccinate elderly people in care homes first. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will go initially to nursing home staff and healthcare workers. That list will expand as more vaccines become available.
Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have remained high in recent weeks, despite a tough lockdown in which all schools and most stores remain closed.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)