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Luxembourg continues J&J rollout despite EU watchdog review

Luxembourg continues J&J rollout despite EU watchdog review

by Yannick HANSEN 5 min. 15.04.2021
News come as Grand Duchy's prosecutor's office probes "suspicious death" after AstraZeneca vaccination
Photo credit: AFP

Luxembourg is continuing to administer the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, the country's health ministry said on Wednesday, despite the jab being investigated by the EU's drug regulator after rare cases of blood clotting in the US.

"At this stage, there is no change in the vaccination campaign in Luxembourg," health ministry spokeswoman Monique Putz said in an statement to The Luxembourg Times. "The Janssen vaccine has been administered in Luxembourg since this morning (Wednesday)."

"The subject will also be discussed at the next Council of Government. Luxembourg is also awaiting the opinion of the EMA," added Putz.

The European Medicines Agency has continued to give its backing to the vaccine as it investigates the cases, it said on Wednesday, and is expecting to issue a recommendation on the jab next week.

"EMA remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects", the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a press release.

This week, the American pharma giant delayed the rollout of its vaccine in the EU just as the first 2,400 doses had arrived in Luxembourg, a set-back for the 27-nation bloc's efforts to accelerate the roll-out of its vaccination programme that has fallen well behind the US and the UK.

The delay came on the same day that the US halted the use of the J&J injections, based on the advice of the federal drug watchdog, the FDA, after 6 cases of blood clotting had occurred out of 6.8 million doses of the vaccine administered.

Luxembourg has been catching up with other EU countries in terms of speed of its vaccine roll-out, but it remains one of the slowest performers. Out of every 100 residents, it has handed out 21.58 doses of a vaccine, just below the EU average of 22.65. The US stands at 57.49 and the UK at 59.08.

The number of active infections dropped by 500 last week to 3,100, the health ministry said on Wednesday and there were 12 deaths, seven fewer than in the previous week. At the same time, the median age of the people requiring hospitalisation dropped to 61 from 67 years.

"Suspicious case" in Luxembourg

Luxembourg also reported a death after an injection with the AstraZeneca vaccine, as a 74-year old woman died of a brain bleed two weeks after receiving the shot, the health ministry said on Wednesday. The national health directorate and the public prosecutor’s office are now probing the case.

The woman's doctor classed her death as "suspicious", according to a press release by the public prosecutor's office. "A link between the death of this person and her vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine two weeks prior could not be ruled out", the press release said.

Thee results of an autopsy on Tuesday are yet to be published. The woman had received the shot on 23 March and died in hospital on 10 April.

Denmark on Wednesday became the first country in the EU to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine indefinitely, the director of the Danish Health Agency said in a press conference. According to the Danish Health Agency there is a link between the jab and rare cases of thrombosis.

The EU's drug regulator, the EMA, which Luxembourg says it solely relies on for its own approval of drugs, assessed the vaccine and judged it "safe and effective", according to a press release a week ago.

AstraZeneca has been the source of continuous trouble for the EU's vaccination campaign as the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant repeatedly scaled back deliveries and is now facing falling public trust over cases of blood clotting.

More doses

In a bout of good news, BioNTech-Pfizer will supply an additional 50 million doses to the EU by the end of June, the European Commission said on Wednesday, adding to the 200 million doses the German-American joint venture is set to deliver to the bloc in the second quarter. 

Initially the extra doses were expected by the fourth quarter, according to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU has also started negotiations with BioNTech-Pfizer over a third contract that would yield 1.8 billion doses between 2021 and 2023, von der Leyen added, while emphasising that "it will entail that not only the production of the vaccines, but also all essential components, will be based in the EU".

Luxembourg will receive 0.14% of deliveries to the EU, amounting to 350,000 jabs of the BioNTech serum by the end of June, enough to fully vaccinate 175,000 people. As of 14 April, 141,352 people in Luxembourg have had at least one dose, including 37,787 who received the second jab that is needed.

The number of daily injections shot up on Wednesday, with 6,261 jabs being handed out, beating Luxembourg's previous daily record by 1,400. 

Fines and border checks

Police fined 360 people over the last two weeks for breaking Covid-related restrictions, mostly because of breaches of the overnight curfew which will remain in place at least until 25 April. The authorities also broke up 27 illegal mass gatherings, while carrying out 600 searches over the period.

Last weekend, French police fined 17 drivers bound for Luxembourg for breaking the renewed lockdown in the country in an effort to deter residents from travelling to the Grand Duchy, where bars and restaurants have reopened.

More border checks will take place in the weeks ahead, Laurent Touvet, the prefect of the department Moselle which neighbours Luxembourg said, though he did not give a precise date for the checks. Under current restrictions, residents of France cannot leave a 10-km radius around their homes. Those who live within 30km of the border are allowed to travel to Luxembourg, however.

(Additional reporting by Zuzanna Reda-Jakima)

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