VEGHEL, Netherlands: Dutch employee of Het Wereldhuis nursing home Sanna Elkadiri receives the first Pfizer vaccine yesterday. – AFP

VEGHEL: The Netherlands administered its first coronavirus shot to a nursing home worker yesterday, as it became the last country in the 27-nation EU to start a vaccination program. The government has been under fire for its slow rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitting this week that he was “really disappointed”. The first person to be inoculated was 39-year-old health worker Sanna Elkadiri, in a ceremony in the southern town of Veghel attended by top Dutch officials. “It’s very special that I have been able to kick this off. And I just hope that soon many others will actually do this with me,” Elkadiri told AFP

She said she felt “physically normal” after getting the vaccine. “If you work in healthcare, you just want to be able to provide your client with full care. And that just does not work as it is now,” she added. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said it was an “amazing moment” for the Netherlands, despite the slow start. “I understand that there is criticism, that criticism stems from impatience… I understand that,” de Jonge told AFP. “At the same time, I hope that we will also celebrate the triumph of science, all the enormous achievements of healthcare, that we also celebrate that together.”

Frontline hospital staff across the country dealing with COVID-19 patients were to be the first inoculated during yesterday. The Netherlands is beginning its vaccination program nearly two weeks after the first jabs began in the EU on December 27, and almost a month behind Britain. The government faced withering criticism in a debate in parliament on Tuesday over the debacle, with MPs livid that the vaccines had been sitting in freezers for two weeks. “I am really disappointed that we are doing this two weeks after other countries,” Rutte told MPs.

De Jonge meanwhile admitted that the government had not been sufficiently “agile” in rolling out the vaccine. Officials have previously blamed logistical issues and the need for domestic authorization. The Netherlands has since mid-December been under its toughest lockdown since the pandemic began, with all schools and non-essential shops closed and people advised to stay at home. Rutte had previously promoted an “intelligent lockdown” that was more relaxed than most of the country’s European neighbors. – AFP