Health ministry did “reasonable job” sourcing Covid vaccines

A test and vaccination centre in Amsterdam. Photo:

The health ministry acted quickly and in the public interest in its approach to buying coronavirus vaccines, the government’s audit office said in a new report on Wednesday.  

The report focuses on the way the first vaccines were sourced in 2020 and 2021, after the virus was identified in the Netherlands at the end of February 2020.

The Netherlands eventually paid €1.8 billion for 102 million doses of vaccine from various suppliers, with Pfizer accounting for the bulk of them. Some 23 million doses were considered surplus to requirements and donated to other countries. 

The report concludes that the then health minister Hugo de Jonge did a “reasonable to good” job, and that the Netherlands played a significant role in the European alliance to develop and supply vaccines. 

But it criticises the lack of expertise at the health ministry about how vaccines are developed, produced and supplied. That expertise “was and remains” inadequate, the audit office says.

The report also suggests that the ministry did not do enough at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent potential conflicts of interest between medical suppliers and the state.

In particular, the office singled out the case of former DSM chief executive Feike Sijbesma, who was put in charge of procuring vaccines, even though his brother had a senior role at vaccine maker AstraZeneca. 

“The ministry did not speak to him about potential conflicts of interest at the time of his appointment,” the auditors said. The report goes on to make it clear there is no evidence that Sijbesma favoured AstraZeneca and points out he criticised Germany for being too reliant on the company.  

The audit office earlier slammed the financial aspect of the healthcare ministry’s role in the coronavirus pandemic, saying €2.1 billion of the €5.1 billion that went on dealing with the crisis was not spent by the rules

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