Nicolas Maeterlinck

Corona co-ordinator calls for change in vaccination priorities

Dr Stefaan Vandecasteele, the corona co-ordinator at the AZ Sint-Jan Hospital in Bruges, and two colleagues have written an open letter to the government and policy makers.  They argue that health care workers who are in direct contact with care home residents and hospital patients should be prioritised when it comes to deciding who gets the corona vaccine first.

At present care home residents are first in line followed, later, by health professionals, probably starting March. Dr Vandecasteele, an expert in infectious diseases, acknowledges care home residents need to be vaccinated ASAP, but adds that due to the scarcity of vaccines difficult choices need to be made.

“The uneasy truth is that the virus is being spread persistently in care homes and hospitals.  Health care staff, who are needed to look after people, are the motor behind the epidemic and are transmitting the virus among vulnerable patients, even when they take all precautions”.

“Health care workers have far more chance of becoming infected.  They are 3.5 times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid.  The figure for the people in their household is double the average.”

“Our health care workers are exhausted.  They have been working in overdrive for a year now.  Absenteeism, due to Covid and quarantine, is high. As a result for months now the quality of care has even affected. The quality of care we provide today would not match our standards last year.”

“If we get a third wave, I do not know how long our staff will persevere. Regular health care has been at 50% power for two months now”. 

“The staff providing vaccinations are often the people with the skills to care for corona patients and take tests.  At present there is also a great shortage of qualified staff.”

Dr Vandecasteele also points to a further argument to support prioritising health care professionals: “Technically speaking the Pfizer vaccine is a difficult vaccine.  Quantities are small and need to be stored correctly at low temperatures. Hospitals and vaccination centres have great expertise to ensure vaccines are administered properly.”

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