Government remains undecided on mandatory vaccine plan
By Yannick Hansen and Emery P. Dalesio
Luxembourg's government will consult multiple expert bodies before deciding on mandatory vaccinations, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Friday, after an inconclusive government meeting on whether the country would follow the example of several other European nations in imposing compulsory jabs amid rising infection rates.
The government has asked an “independent body of experts” to provide a scientific opinion on mandatory inoculations, Bettel said in a statement which was released on Friday afternoon following a meeting of the government council earlier in the day.
Luxembourg’s government is considering replicating the approach of several other European countries by examining the possibility of scrapping the current policy of attempting to simply persuade the unvaccinated to get jabbed, in the face of a building wave of infections.
“But it would be too easy, and it is not enough to answer this question [of mandatory vaccinations] with a yes or a no, because there are several societal, ethical and legal questions”, Bettel said.
Health Minister Paulette Lenert declined to be drawn on whether she backs compulsory vaccination when asked during a press conference on Friday, at which the current situation in Luxembourg’s hospitals was outlined. The country’s parliament is expected to discuss mandatory vaccinations shortly.
Three quarters of Luxembourg’s entire population are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Lenert said.
The question of a vaccine mandate has gained momentum with two parties, the opposition Christian Democrats (CSV) and the Greens, a member of the current coalition, voicing their support for such a move in light of ballooning infections.
Hospitalisations, however, have been stable for weeks, Lenert said, with 20 patients in intensive care in the week immediately after Christmas, compared to 19 the previous week. This follows some preliminary signs from studies across the world that Omicron causes milder symptoms of the disease.
Booster scheme extended
Everyone over the age of 18 can now get a booster shot three months after a second dose and children aged 12 or older are also eligible for a booster, the government announced on Friday. The decision came as Lenert said 80% of Luxembourg’s cases are now caused by the more transmissible Omicron variant.
However, the number of unvaccinated patients in intensive care wards remains a concern, said Dr Christophe Werer of the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL), who spoke alongside Lenert at the press conference on Friday.
80% of patients in the CHL’s intensive care unit in the last three months, he said, had not been vaccinated. One in three patients in ICU did not survive a Covid-19 infection, Werer added. “There is no doubt the vaccination is the best means to prevent severe disease”, he said.
The doctor also gave an insight into the profile of fully vaccinated patients his team had treated in intensive care in the last three months. Out of a total of 11 fully vaccinated patients, three people were admitted to hospital following car accidents, but tested positive during their admission, meaning they are counted as Covid-19 patients. Just one intensive care patient who was fully vaccinated did not have any pre-existing medical conditions, Werer explained.
Last week, 22 Covid-19 patients in regular care were not fully vaccinated, while 14 of the 20 ICU occupants did not have the full vaccine protection, the government’s latest data showed.
Support for mandatory jabs
A series of scientists, noted physicians and groups representing hospitals and health workers offered Bettel's government cover by issuing statements supporting mandatory vaccinations, at least for medical staff. Requiring everyone to take the vaccine rather than keeping the requirement limited to health workers "would help not to further divide society and would make it possible to fight effectively against the pandemic," the organisation representing Luxembourg's care home operators, COPAS, said in a statement.
Increasing pressure on the unvaccinated could produce a reaction from those opposed to the government mandating preventative treatment and opposition lawmakers are questioning a government decision last month to restrict demonstrations to a narrow section of the capital city.
"The zoning was set up in order to maintain the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of opinion and the right to demonstrate" while preventing a repeat of protestors storming into outdoor holiday markets packed with shoppers last month, Bettel said on Thursday in response to one parliamentary question. "It can be assumed that the organizers and the well-meaning demonstrators did not mind sticking to the zoning."
Luxembourg's debate came as Germany's government ministers also met on Friday to plan the next steps in the country's pandemic response. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday that some form of mandatory vaccination was the best way to stop the spread of the Omicron virus variant and others that can be as contagious but more dangerous, Bloomberg reported.
On Thursday, France’s parliament approved legislation restricting entry to restaurants, museums, concerts, trains and airplanes to those who have been fully vaccinated. The bill is backed by 54% of the French, according to a poll of 1,022 people by Ifop-Le Journal du Dimanche, and needs to be approved in the French Senate before it can become law.
Compulsory vaccination for all Austrians will take effect next month after that country became the first in the EU to approve a general mandate.
While the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 is causing a worldwide spiralling in infections, it remained secondary to the more-dangerous Delta version in Luxembourg as of 26 December, the national health laboratory said in a report on Friday.
In an effort to better battle the pandemic, Luxembourg has negotiated the purchase of nearly 26,000 doses of two new oral medicines that fight the Covid-causing coronavirus should the drugs be approved by the European Medicines Agency, Lenert said in a response on Thursday to a parliamentary question.