Luxembourg halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine
By Patrick Jacquemot and Emery P. Dalesio
Luxembourg has stopped giving out doses of a batch of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca pending further testing by European medical experts, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said on Thursday.
The decision came after Denmark and other European countries suspended the vaccine after reports that four patients in Austria were diagnosed with dangerous blood clotting conditions.
Luxembourg had not given out any injections from the batch of 4,800 doses of the vaccine, a source close to the health ministry said.
But a day later, the health ministry said that the country had already administered 4,141 doses out of the batch, delivered before concerns that originated in Austria suspended their use.
The overall size of the batch was one million doses.
Luxembourg along with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia had suspended use of the AstraZeneca batch that had been distributed to 17 EU countries on Tuesday, the European Medicines Agency said.
Austria, which also suspended using the vaccine, had reported that one person died 10 days after vaccination after developing blood clots within blood vessels, the EMA said. Another was hospitalised with blockages of the arteries in the lungs but recovered. At least two other people who were treated with the suspended batch of vaccine also developed blood clots, the agency said.
"There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine," the EMA said.
The 22 cases of blood clots reported among the three million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca product across Europe "is no higher than that seen in the general population", the agency said.
Denmark's health minister tweeted on Thursday that health authorities there also suspended vaccinations with AstraZeneca as a precaution.
The suspension threatens to further slow the glacial pace of administering vaccines to Luxembourg's population of 626,000 as well as the cross-border foreign workers on which the country's economy depends.
The AstraZeneca product made up more than half of the vaccine doses delivered to Luxembourg last week. It was expected to make up 38% of the more than 75,000 doses projected to arrive by the end of March, trailing only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to health ministry data. Drug-maker Moderna, which produces the third vaccine now being used in Luxembourg, was expected to deliver only 7,000 doses through the end of March.
Luxembourg had last week quickened the pace with a 31% increase in inoculations to nearly 9,000. That was after weekly vaccinations dropped by 15% in February's final week amid a supply bottleneck. Luxembourg has seen one of Europe's slowest vaccine roll-outs with just over 7.8 injections for each 100 residents compared to the EU average of 9.9.
The EU's medicine agency on Thursday approved the single-jab Johnson & Johnson drug, but deliveries of that vaccine produced in the Netherlands are not expected until April.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel last week said the current restrictions to stop the spread of the pandemic would be prolonged until 2 April. Bars and restaurants will remain closed and the country remains under an overnight curfew.
Luxembourg researchers also said on Thursday that the deadlier and more-contagious coronavirus mutation first identified in Great Britain is spreading and became the dominant variety by the end of last month.
The British variant was found in two-thirds of the samples in Luxembourg during the last week of February, up from about half the cases tested the previous week, the National Health Laboratory said. The mutated form of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is up to 70% more transmissible and British researchers reported on Wednesday that it could be up to twice as deadly.
Researchers found 17 variants of the coronavirus circulating in Luxembourg at the end of February, the Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS) said.
Most prevalent behind the British strain was the so-called South African variant detected in 16% of the tests. That variant, against which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may be significantly less effective, showed no significant increase over the previous week, LNS said.
Luxembourg' schools reported 12% fewer Covid-19 cases with 308 in the week ending on Sunday, the education ministry said on Thursday. That included four people at an unnamed primary school who spread the coronavirus among several classes, the ministry said.
(Additional reporting by Yannick Lambert)