State Secretary of Public Health, Welfare and Sport Paul Blokhuis on Monday did not confirm a definite date for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations to the Dutch Caribbean. In a letter he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, on the request of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations, Blokhuis stated that the “aim” was to start the vaccination of health care personnel in Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten, and the entire population of St. Eustatius and Saba. Based on the advice of the Netherlands Health Council, it was also the intention to start the vaccination of persons age 60 and over mid-February.
The final number of vaccinations that will go to the islands has not been set. Together with National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM, it will be determined in what amounts the vaccine will become available for the islands per February 15. Vaccination will take place “as soon as” RIVM has approved the execution plans that the islands have drafted, as well as the storage locations that have been locally installed.
From January 14 to 30, a delegation from The Hague, headed by special vaccination delegate for the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom Marc Sprenger, visited all six islands for inspections. While on the islands, the delegation assessed the execution plans, checked the storage and vaccination locations, and provided training to medical personnel.
Sprenger and his team will keep monitoring the developments on the islands in the coming weeks, and provide support for the last preparations “with as point of departure to start vaccinating in the Caribbean in the week of February 15,” stated Blokhuis.
Investments have been made on the six islands with regard to the developing of testing capacity. Currently, the testing capacity on all islands is sufficient, stated Blokhuis. Tests from Saba and St. Eustatius are sent to the laboratory in St. Maarten for analysis, while tests taken in Bonaire mostly go to Curacao.
Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and St. Maarten, also in light of receiving international flights, which are crucial to their economic survival, have been expanding their commercial testing capacity.
There are sufficient beds in intensive care and medium care at the hospitals to treat all COVID-19 patients, thanks to the support of the Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport VWS in the area of medication, IC equipment and care personnel.
Blokhuis said it has not been necessary as yet to transfer patients due to the shortage of local capacity. In Aruba, part of the elective care has been scaled down due to corona care. This is not the case on the other islands. Transport of patients between the islands for regular care also continues, be it under strict conditions.
Currently, the Netherlands provides personal protection materials for health care personnel on all islands, while IC equipment and medication have been sent to all hospitals. Since the pandemic, medical personnel have been allocated to Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten, via an American employment agency. Medical and financial assistance have been provided to all public health departments in the Dutch Caribbean. The Netherlands also makes the equipment and project managers available for the vaccination programmes on the islands. The state secretary assured that the collaboration between the public health authorities on the six islands, and the involved ministries would continue in the coming months in an effort to mitigate as much as possible the public health and socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
As for the epidemic situation on the islands, Blokhuis stated that this was generally stable at this moment. The number of infections in Bonaire and Curacao, which increased after the Christmas holidays, and the number of hospitalised patients has gone down a lot, also due to the strict measures.
In Aruba, the numbers increased in the past weeks. There are concerns in Aruba about the willingness to test. The current measures in Aruba will continue to be enforced. On January 25, five infections of the British variety were discovered. It concerned two incoming travellers and three local persons. There are indications that local transmissions took place.
“On the other islands so far no mutated variety of the coronavirus has been found. The travel restrictions for passenger traffic from Aruba to Curacao and St. Maarten have been increased since January 26,” the state secretary noted.
The Daily Herald.