Dr. Philippe Meersseman is a specialist in lung diseases and an intensive care doctor at the Leuven University Hospital (UZ Leuven), who has stood on the front-lies of this pandemic for the last year.
Speaking on the VRT radio programme De Ochtend, he looked back at a year of high drama in both of his specialities – a year which has still not ended.
“I realized quite early on that this would have an impact on us. The fact that China put cities with millions of inhabitants in lockdown, that rang a bell for me. Images of Chinese people disinfecting the streets, that was hallucinatory. You could say, ‘Oh, those Chinese,’ but then the images came in from Italy.”
Thanks to the measures taken to stem the growth of the virus in the early days, hospital services were pushed hard, but never really faced a breakdown, he said.
“We had to sprint to prepare everything for that first wave. That was tough, but once we got there, it went well.”
Now the vaccination campaign has started, we ought to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but he remains critical of how that phase of the recovery has been handled.
“For me and for many other care providers, this is very frustrating. We have been working very hard for a year, day and night,” he said.
“A few weeks ago we were hearing that the teething problems in the system were finally over. We knew in April last year that a vaccine is the only thing that would get us out of the mess. You would expect that there would be someone at that point who would make a plan for the summer, and that it could start immediately as soon as there was a vaccine, whether in January or February. You would expect that vaccine could be given immediately and without teething problems. In my opinion, it cannot be that difficult.”
Since the start of the crisis, there has been a clash of philosophies between the scientists, who know how the disease needs to be tackled, and politicians, who have to impose the chosen restrictions on the population.
In most cases, the scientists have measured their words carefully when it came to disputes between the two sides. Dr. Meersseman is anything but diplomatic: politicians, he said, have “absolutely failed” when it came to the vaccination campaign, he said.
“It could have happened faster and it should have happened faster. Every patient who dies now, I think is one too many because the vaccination policy has failed,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science; you have to administer a vaccine and monitor the patient. You have to decide which order patients are vaccinated in. The population has not changed in a year. Politics must learn to look further into the future, anticipate problems, not wait until they arise before looking for an answer. That could have been done in this situation.”