Schools minister Arie Slob in hospital with bacterial infection

Schools minister Arie Slob has been forced to miss the end of the parliamentary year after falling ill with a bacterial infection. The 56-year-old had been due to take part in a debate on Tuesday on the administrative debacle that has forced more than 350 students at two schools in Maastricht to resit their end-of-year exams. The Christian Union (CU) minister withdrew from the debate at the last minute after succumbing to what his spokesman described as a 'heavy flu'. But on Thursday education and culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, who stood in for Slob in the debate, revealed he had been taken to the Isala hospital in Zwolle after the bacterial infection was discovered. A spokesman for the ChristenUnie said: 'We wish Arie the best of health and are praying that he recovers quickly.'  More >

Gov't sets aside €5m for vaccine victims

The government has set aside €5m to compensate a group of seven to 11 people who were given the Pandemrix vaccine against Mexican flu and who may have developed narcolepsy as a result, the Volkskrant reported on Friday. The vaccine, which is not the same as the annual flu jab, was given to around half a million children at the time of the flu outbreak in 2009. It is rare for the state to come to a financial settlement with individuals about side effects because the vaccines are extensively tested, the paper said, adding that the fact that an amount has been set aside does not mean the state admits liability. Studies into the occurrence of narcolepsy as a side-effect of the vaccine have proved contradictory. Narcolepsy is a debilitating disease that makes people fall asleep at odd moments and can weakens the muscles in moments of stress. ‘It is very difficult to prove if individual cases are the result of the vaccine,’ Agnes Kant, director of drug safety centre Lareb, told the paper. ‘But if you look at all the studies, there is a strong indication that in rare cases Pandemrix can play a role in the development of narcolepsy.’ In 2016 a 15 year-old boy in Britain who also had the vaccine and subsequently developed narcolepsy was awarded the equivalent of €163,000 in damages. Individual payouts A health ministry spokesperson told the paper that nothing can be inferred about the amount given in individual compensation from the €5m stated in the health ministry budget. But personal injury lawyers John Beer and Lucas Hogeling, who represent the families of the children who may have been affected, say it’s ‘remarkable’ the government mentioned an amount at all. ‘We are still talking to the state advocate and experts about how extensive the damage is. These are young people now, between 10 and 15 years old, some of whom are unable to work or study full-time. So that €5m could easily become €10m,’ they told the Volkskrant.  More >

Government was aware of meningitis threat

The Dutch government ignored warnings from pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as early as September 2016 about the steep rise in cases of meningococcal W disease in the Netherlands, the Volkskrant said on Friday. That month the company’s chief of vaccinations Rolf Remorie said in an email to public health institute RIVM, that the risk of an outbreak is ‘real’. The government would do well to order vaccines ‘in case it is confronted with a situation in which a great number are needed’ as producing the vaccines is ‘time consuming’, Remorie warned. Remorie referred in his mail to Britain which has registered multiple deaths from MenW, a new, virulent strain of meningitis and septicaemia, which caused the disease to be classed as a public health emergency as far back as 2015.  According to GSK the same strain is now doing the rounds in the Netherlands. The alarm was again raised the following November by RIVM epidemiologist Mirjam Knol during a presentation, the paper said. The organisation says the lack of an adequate reaction from the government means there are now not enough vaccines to go around and vaccination of vulnerable 14 to 18 year-olds will have to take place in phases. The RIVM has now started a vaccination campaign for children born between May 1 and December 31 2004 and called MenW 'the most serious infectious disease we know’. Babies The lack of vaccines does not affect babies which have been receiving a vaccine against four types on meningococcal disease at 14 months old, including MenW, since May. The disease has killed 18 people so far this year in the Netherlands, a rise of seven compared to 2016. Of all patients one in six dies. In the category 14 to 24 year-olds the figure shoots up to one in three. ‘We could not have reacted any faster than we did’, government vaccination programme manager Hans van Vliet told the paper in a reaction. ‘You can’t spend millions on a scarce vaccine if you don’t know what will happen. Meningococcal bacteria are notoriously unpredictable and that makes it hard to make a decision. We had to weight the options: is this going to be serious or not? We only established in the summer of 2017 that this wasn’t going to go away,’ Van Vliet is quoted as saying. Action This prompted the then-health minister Edith Schippers to take swift action, bypassing the Health Council, which would have taken time to come up with an recommendation, in favour of advice from the RIVM. According to Remorie, the question is whether a government should anticipate tackling a serious avoidable disease which marks children for life or whether it waits until the first victims die. ‘I understand governments can’t decide in one day but it takes us longer to make vaccine’, he told the paper. Media stories of healthy teens dying from meningococcal disease have prompted many parents to ring their family doctors or regional health service GGD asking for their child to be vaccinated. The GGD in Amsterdam has recruited extra staff to cope with the calls, the Volkskrant said, Meningoccocal meningitis is spread through the air. The first symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell. Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion.  More >

State-backed abortion advice not neutral

A state-subsidised organisation that provides support for women who are considering an abortion is ‘not neutral’ and is ‘hiding its Christian agenda’, according to  the Groene Amsterdammer. Siriz, one of two organisations in the Netherlands which help women who are facing an unwanted pregnancy, is trying to dissuade women from having a termination by emphasizing the ‘regret’ they will feel afterwards, the magazine said. The organisation received a hike in subsidies from €700.000 to €1.5m a year in 2013, after an amendment by an MP from the fundamentalist Christian party SGP was passed in parliament. Siriz, which was established in 2010, has close links with the anti-abortion group VBOK, which opposes ending pregnancies on orthodox Christian principles. Its mission is to ‘emphasise other possibilities than abortion but not go to extremes to prevent it’, director Johan van Veelen said at the time. In a reaction to the Volkskrant, the organisation said 'the protection of the unborn child and the woman's right to decide are taken into consideration but the woman has the final word'. But the Groene Amsterdammer says the ‘open arms’ approach of the organisation - a strong online presence and a policy of actively contacting women by Whatsapp or chats - is similar to that of pro-life organisations in Britain and the United States. Old lady One women was asked in a chat to consider if she would think an abortion had been  ‘the right decision, looking back on it as a little 80 year-old lady’, the paper writes. The organisation also provides incorrect medical information, according to gynaecologist Gunilla Kleiverda, who posed as a pregnant woman in need of advice. She was told a subsequent pregnancy would be more difficult and that an abortion would cause an infection. ‘Siriz gives incorrect information to deter women,’ the paper quotes her as saying. According to UMC professor Ella van Laan it would be better to spend money on promoting awareness and putting the contraceptive pill back in the basic insurance package. Few abortions ‘Extra money for support to women coping with an unwanted pregnancy is ‘a useless, ideological investment’ (..) ‘30,000 abortions are taking place each year in the Netherlands and that puts it among the lowest per capita. We’re doing really well!’, she told the paper. Labour MP Lilianne Ploumen has announced she will bring the matter up during next week's budget talks when she will also ask ministers to up the subsidy for FIOM, the other support organisation for women. ‘This subsidy seems to be purely ideological and not based on facts. (..) The government only finances neutral support and it is clear this is not,’ she told the paper.  More >

Medics oppose use of dead men's sperm

Dutch gynaecologists and embryologists are opposed in principle to inseminating women with sperm from a dead or comatose partner, the Volkskrant reports. The associations for gynaecologists and embryologists state their view in a guideline document about the dilemmas they are confronted with and which health minister Hugo de Jonge had requested in view of the rapid developments in reproductive technology. Parliament is discussing medical ethics on Thursday. The guideline, which is not binding, states that doctors should be ‘very reticent’ when asked for a procedure involving a dead man’s sperm, ‘especially if there is no written consent from the person in question’. ‘We think the interests of the deceased have to be protected,’ gynaecologist Annemiek Nap told the paper. According to Nap it happens sporadically that women want a child when their husbands die unexpectedly. ‘They might say: my husband would have wanted this. But if he has not given his consent in writing beforehand you never know whether that was really what he would have wanted. In that case the most logical step would have been to freeze his semen while he was still alive.’ Posthumous sperm retrieval is not illegal in the Netherlands and in principle women who have been refused insemination can take the sperm abroad, where rules may be different. Other ways of posthumous reproductive techniques are used in the Netherland, such as using sperm or eggs that have been frozen previously with the express intent, which has to be confirmed in writing, that the tissue can be used after death. According to Nap this happens one to a few times a year, the Volkskrant writes.  More >

Government won't ban 'suicide powder'

Chemical substances such as the ‘suicide powder’ recommended by euthanasia cooperative Laatste Wil, will not be banned, health minister Hugo de Jonge has said in a letter to parliament. De Jonge says a ban would be complicated, ineffective and would put the names of the substances in the public domain, which is what he wants to avoid. Some of the substances, moreover, are beneficial in low dosages, the minister said. De Jonge he wants to ‘up the threshold’ for the use of chemicals for suicidal purposes and calls on the chemicals sector to ‘self-regulate’. The sale of chemical substances to private individuals and attempts to buy the chemicals abroad will be monitored as well. In April this year a 19 year-old women killed herself after buying a powder on the internet but her supplier is not thought to be the cooperative. The health minister said at the time the death was ‘extremely worrying’.  More >