Not Another COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker

Tracking narratives in The Netherlands as they evolve (and some numbers too).

An evolving data story by Connor McMullen.

Last Updated March 31, 2021.

Of all of the places to be, I thought, The Netherlands must be one of the best possible. Surely better than my home country, the United States. At the time led by a divisive and distractible man who was floundering to the end of a failed presidency. Surely better than India, my spiritual once-home that is miss more and more every winter. Surely better than Ukraine, where I had just filmed a short documentary.

 

Surely, The Dutch, who pride efficiency, planning, and multi-criteria decision making, would respond swiftly and with a long-term vision.

It seems today that perhaps I was wrong.

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout in The Netherlands is off to a slow and sputtering start. Dutch leaders rightfully noted that the race to be first to stab was a trivial notion, and assured the public that soon the vaccination engine would be churning along at a steady pace. As we passed through January and February towards the promise of warmer weather and the hope of beers on the patio, the Dutch vaccination program remains stalled in the driveway.

Just a note, we're working with really big estimates here, assuming that every soul in the nation will eventually be vaccinated, and using the data for people who are fully vaccinated from the weekly reports. There is some delay between the rates of administration, delivery, and of course several weeks between the two doses required for complete vaccination. 

Some combination of the short-term Astra Zeneca vaccine ban, an overloaded infrastructure, and potential failings of long-term planning have left many disappointed as ministers continue to deflect blame and reframe the conversation away from the issue at hand. 

Tracking the vaccination numbers is a complicated endeavour, one the RIVM explains in detail here. I'm not at all interested in diving into these weeds, so we're going to look at the only number that really matters: people fully vaccianted. Let's zoom out and check on this number as a portion of the total population, and zoom in to check on the weekly numbers.

3.72% (670,000 people) of total population are fully vaccinated.

At last week's posted dosage rate, everyone will be fully vaccinated by November 27th 2021*.

*Some pretty rough math, but a light at on the calendar.

These numbers tell only part of the story. Vaccination rates are projected to increase, though as we mentioned there are some systemic barriers to reaching the full potential. One is mistrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a difficult narrative work as so many question its safety. The second are the structural limitations of the national healthcare system. We've heard for a year about ICU capacity, but there might be a new bottleneck in the room. 

Each vaccination appointment relies on communication between government schedulers, local doctors & nurses, and every single person in the nation. No small feat, and one that may be overwhelming the national communication infastructure. There have been reports that waits on hold during calls to schedule vaccines stretched on for hours. With a growing stock of vaccines, and quickening pace, the ability to coordinate such a wide-scale effort will be tested.

Once those people are contacted, they need to agree to take the vaccine. While reported vaccine acceptance remains relatively high, the AstraZeneca ban took places after the last results were recorded. Next week we could expect to see a drop in willingness among the general population. How public servants handle those who wish to be vaccinated with another version of the vaccine is unclear. 

These two problems do not exist in a vaccuum. The Dutch government is currently in the midst of half a dozen crises of varying size. Protests and domestic terrorism dominate the headlines and when they don't, political scandals do. Weekly press conferences have become a routine where other measures are lifted as a curfew remains in place. 

Dutch corona policy assumes we live to work, instead of working to live.

Frustration with these narratives grow as the days lengthen and holy days come to pass. A number of inconsistent decisions have fueled frustration. I am collecting key quotes and narratives as they emerge, so that we can look at these stories alongside the data from the same moment and see how the narratives align over time. 

In the past few months, a few narratives have emerged. Some at the surface, and others buried deep in the words. The first we're all already familar with, the AstraZeneca story, one we have yet to finish. Swimming along at the surface is also the tale the numbers tale, our quest to vaccinate the population and return to some semblance of normal. The progress of the Dutch vaccination program is updated weekly, a trickle of estimates in a pool of uncertainty. 

Those deeper narratives aren't always apparent, but you can see them in the words if you choose to. We find many examples of Dutch politicians taking on the role of the Shapeshitfer, changing their approach as the situation develops. These narratives may be effective for political reasons, at the same time failing to inspire because they deviated from the traditional heroic structure that is embedded in Western culture.

Culture is the subject of our second embedded narrative. A certain concept of efficiency is something of a national pride. It may seem cliché to say the Dutch complain when the train is a few minutes late, but after three years I've caught myself doing it along with them. Taxes rate and health care expenditure rank among the highest in the world. Understanding why that's the case is it's own deep dive, but even if we don't know that now we can see how the topic appears in narratives over time. 

All of this must be taken with a few things in mind. My perspective is far from the traditional Dutch. perspective. I'm American, and grew up playing stories and reading about prototypical colonialist perspective. Rah, rah, lead from the front, all that jazz. It's difficult to work with, it requires faith, courage, and a certain level of humility. I've come to see it as a potential problem in most setting. Most settings. 

I view all of this as an example of what happens when there isn't even a little bit of that perspective in the room during a crisis. The Dutch do as they always do, considering every perspective and trying to present the best face at all times. Each action is questioned as decision-making principles become obscured behind models and consensus. Consistency falls to the wayside as the Dutch government is trying to manage their way out of this pandemic

Crises require leadership. Bold, principled decisions that look to the horizon for guidance. The roughshod preparations for wide-spread vaccine roll-out (and the pandemic response in general) are a sign that we as a society are not ready to face the other grand challenges that loom on the horizon. 

The Netherlands is not alone in this problem, it seems most days that only a very specific type of man is willing to leverage this type of leadership, though there is some hope on the horizon. A number of (minority) women in the United States and abroad have begun to flex their own rhetorical muscles in the push for racial justice. 

It's up to each of us to support them and leaders like them in The Netherlands. Not with money, or votes, though those are nice too. We must support them through our voice. Speak up, to remind elected officials we need leadership, as much as we need management.