Herd immunity remains elusive for Luxembourg
Luxembourg needs to step up its game if it wants to vaccinate enough people to stop the coronavirus from spreading, a top researcher said on Thursday, as fewer people have been volunteering to take a shot over the past weeks.
Last week, the total number of vaccinations had dropped by a third to 27,000 compared to week of 12 July, when it stood at 38,000. Crucially, the number of first vaccinations plummeted to just 3,800 from 13,400 - a sign it is becoming harder to convince people to receive the medication.
"If we continue vaccinating on a voluntary basis, we will not reach [herd immunity]," Markus Ollert, who heads the immunity department at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, said, referring to the fact that no virus can spread in a group of people if enough are immune against it.
"At least 80% of the entire population will need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity," Ollert said in an interview. More contagious mutations of the virus such as the Delta variant may require an even higher level, he said.
Luxembourg's population is still well short of that level. Figures on Wednesday showed that just below 60% of the Grand Duchy's population - or around 355,000 people - has now received the full vaccination.
People without any vaccination yet make up the vast majority of new infections - 83% last week. And while the spread of the disease is slowing, there were two new deaths on Wednesday and wastewater analysis indicated the pandemic may accelerate again, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
The government should consider creating incentives for people who have not had the jab yet and convince those who are hesitant, Ollert said.
France, long behind Luxembourg in its vaccine rollout, has now overtaken the Grand Duchy after millions of people chose to get a shot following President Emmanuel Macron's announcement that a health or vaccination certificate will be required to enter restaurants and bars from the start of this month.
Luxembourg is still ruling out making vaccinations mandatory, and is instead taking steps such as offering healthcare workers a second chance to get vaccinated and allowing general practitioners to jab people in their practices, hoping more people will take a vaccine from a doctor they know.
Early figures are modest though. Just 70 patients signed up to get a vaccine at one practice Esch-sur-Alzette, one of just four clinics in the country to administer shots in a pilot phase, Guillaume Steichen, a local doctor from Esch, told the Luxemburger Wort. More doctors are set to join.
A "vaccination bus" will also tour the e-lake festival in Echternach, popular with younger people, the health ministry said on Twitter on Wednesday. Festival goers can get a shot without having to sign up beforehand.
Infections are likely to go up in the coming autumn and winter months as people spend more time in their homes, Ollert said, though the higher vaccination levels than last year would probably mean there would be fewer serious cases forcing people to hospitalise or causing deaths.
"There will definitely be a new wave", Ollert said, but its "intensity and impact" will depend on how many get vaccinated until then and "whether we can provide booster vaccination to older people and to those who have developed a lower immune response to the original vaccination".
Luxembourg has handed out only very few booster shots - or a third dose of the vaccine - to people who are especially vulnerable.
(Additional reporting by David Thinnes at the Luxemburger Wort)