Three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large proportion of the Dutch population has developed immunity through vaccination, a past infection or both. However, this immunity decreases over time and new virus variants may bypass immunity. As a result, the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to cause disease. The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport has requested the Health Council for advice regarding a routine vaccination programme against COVID-19.
The Health Council’s Sub-Committee on COVID-19 Vaccinations recommends offering, as of now, annual vaccinations to people over 60 and at-risk groups starting from autumn 2023. During 2022, new virus variants emerged throughout the year, constantly creating new waves of infection. A temporary increase in hospitalisations and ICU admissions due to COVID-19 was observed after each wave of infection. The burden of disease was highest among people aged 60 and older and those with a medical condition, whether serious or otherwise.
Assuming that multiple waves of infection will continue to occur each year in the near future, the Committee recommends maintaining the immunity of at-risk groups, for the time being, via annual vaccinations. It also recommends continuing to offer vaccinations to pregnant women, as COVID-19 can have severe consequences for them. Annual vaccination of healthcare workers who come into direct contact with patients may also indirectly help protect at-risk groups from hospitalisation or death from COVID-19.
Since it is still unclear how COVID-19 will evolve, the Committee recommends that the vaccination programme be evaluated each year and adjusted if necessary. According to the Committee, it is important to continue looking at a variety of scenarios, ranging from very mild to very severe. The Committee has outlined the implications of a vaccination programme for various scenarios.