Luxembourg shelves mandatory jabs - for now
Luxembourg will not require jabs against Covid-19 for those aged 50 and older -- contrary to an expert panel's advice this week - but could revisit the mandate later, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Friday.
A law compelling vaccinations would not be proportionate to current needs as the vaccines cannot prevent infections and Covid-19 patients are no longer clogging up intensive care units owing to the milder Omicron variant, Bettel said at a press conference.
"The government has come to the conclusion that a vaccine mandate, in the current political and societal context, will not lead to the desired vaccination rate of 100%", Bettel said.
"That's why, in our opinion, the proportionality of a vaccine mandate is at the moment in question; a proportionality that six months ago was perhaps more given than today when we have different findings ", he added.
On Tuesday, a panel of Luxembourg's leading virologists and epidemiologists recommended the government move quickly and require jabs for everyone aged 50 or older before an anticipated wave of cases in the autumn as people congregate indoors again.
A 100% requirement for that older age group could cut intensive illnesses almost completely if the earlier, less-contagious Delta variant were still around, the panel said. But now that Omicron is the dominant strain, it would only reduce the need for intensive care treatment by 9%, the panel said.
However, the government left the option of a mandate on the table if a more dangerous variant of the virus appeared in the future and more effective vaccines became available, Bettel said. "We also know that the current situation is not a guarantee for the future", he said.
A law to impose a vaccine requirement for older people is almost finished being developed and will be forwarded to the country's State Council, the de facto upper chamber, and to deputies for more input, said Justice Minister Sam Tanson, who spoke alongside Bettel.
This would be an "unusual procedure", Tanson said. The draft law does not contain language explaining why it is needed and will be reviewed and discussed by lawmakers and the State Council before it is officially introduced as active legislation, she said.
Should a mandate come into force, holdouts will be fined €150 a month for as long as the requirement is in place, Tanson said.
A vaccine mandate would only come if it enjoyed "broad support", including from opposition lawmakers, Bettel said. The prime minister is due to address Parliament on the issue on Wednesday. Deputies are expected to debate the government's position on Thursday - the day before the summer recess.
This week, lawmakers from the CSV Christian Democrats and from Bettel's own Democratic Party rejected an immediate vaccine mandate. Just six months ago, when Luxembourg was battered by the more lethal Delta variant, Bettel and his party endorsed mandatory jabs.
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