The Netherlands will first vaccinate care workers at nursing homes.

How well you protect vulnerable residents with this depends to a large extent on the characteristics of the vaccine used and the willingness to vaccinate.

The 269,000 healthcare workers in the nursing homes are among the first to qualify for a corona vaccine.

What is the point of vaccinating precisely this group?

Prevent outbreaks

Frits Rosendaal, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the LUMC, explains that with this vaccination strategy you try to prevent the coronavirus from entering a nursing home, where many people live who have a high chance of developing serious complaints or dying after a coronavirus infection.

Care workers, just like visiting family members, can bring the corona virus into a nursing home.

For example, care workers can become infected in their family, while shopping or playing sports and subsequently infect a resident in the nursing home.

Once the corona virus is in a nursing home, it can often spread easily, according to Rosendaal.

"For example, many people with dementia live in nursing homes. These people are often difficult to isolate and it is not always easy to explain that they have to keep their distance."

We don't know yet whether the vaccine will prevent spread?

How well the vaccination of nursing home employees will help to keep the corona virus out of nursing homes depends on several things, according to Rosendaal.

"It matters, for example, how many nursing home employees are vaccinated and how well the vaccine prevents people from spreading the corona virus."

"We now know that the vaccine, which will be used first, the Pfizer vaccine, offers more than 90 percent protection against coronavirus disease. Whether the vaccine is just as good at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, let us know. We don't yet. But it is almost certain that the vaccine reduces the chance that people will spread the virus, if you don't get sick, you won't cough or sniffle either. "

Calculation example

If the vaccine offers less protection against the spread of the virus than against disease, it will still prevent outbreaks.

Even if the effectiveness in this respect is, for example, 70 percent, says Rosendaal.

Rosendaal explains this on the basis of this calculation example.

"Suppose that everyone who works in a nursing home currently has a 1 percent chance of infecting a resident. With a vaccine, that chance could drop to 0.3 percent for every vaccinated employee."

You can calculate what this means for the chance that an outbreak will occur in a nursing home as follows: Suppose you have 10 nursing homes with 100 employees each.

Without vaccination, based on these figures, you expect one employee in all 10 nursing homes to infect a resident, with an outbreak as a possible consequence.

If all employees have been vaccinated, you only expect an employee in 3 out of 10 nursing homes to infect a resident.

The above example also shows that the usefulness of this vaccination strategy depends on the willingness of the healthcare workers to vaccinate.

If only a small number of employees are vaccinated, you will prevent an employee from bringing the corona virus into the nursing home less often.

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For example, the Pfizer vaccine is supposed to fight the coronavirus in your body

Wouldn't it be better to vaccinate the residents first?

Vaccinating nursing home employees can thus prevent outbreaks in nursing homes.

Nevertheless, the Health Council has recommended that, if possible, first vaccinate the residents of the nursing homes themselves and other vulnerable elderly people.

The main reason for this is that it directly protects people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19.

Rosendaal also says that vaccinating residents of nursing homes is a more direct and more secure way of protecting these people than vaccinating employees.

Even if all employees are vaccinated, major outbreaks can still occur in some nursing homes.

Nevertheless, Van Rosendaal is pleased that the care workers of nursing homes are first vaccinated.

"From a logistics point of view, vaccination in nursing homes is a major challenge. This is partly due to the properties of the Pfizer vaccine, which has a limited shelf life outside the freezer. However, it is also difficult, for example, to get permission for vaccination from elderly people suffering from dementia. Je may have to call the children first before you can vaccinate a resident with dementia. "