Luxembourg to use AstraZeneca vaccine quicker as cases rise
By Yannick Lambert and Julie Edde
Luxembourg will save up fewer doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for a required second shot to speed up its inoculation campaign, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said on Thursday, handing out more first doses of the drug as infections with the coronavirus picked up speed again.
Speeding up first doses of the vaccine is all the more important as new variants of the virus are spreading, Lenert said at a press conference.
The more transmissible UK mutation of the virus has now firmly taken hold in the country, Luxembourg scientists said on Thursday, making up 56% of all new infections in the Grand Duchy.
On Wednesday, Luxembourg reported 324 new infections - out of a total of 12,516 tests - well higher than the level of 200 daily new cases that had become the average rate over the past few weeks. The number of active infections stood at 2,982, the highest since the middle of January.
The number of people who tested positive to Covid-19 rose nearly 14% over the last week despite a smaller number of tests being carried out over that period.
There were 16 deaths, compared to 11 the week before, bringing the total number of fatalities since the start of the pandemic to 632, or one in every thousands inhabitants. The average age of the victims was 80.
The country's new approach with the AstraZeneca vaccine is similar to that in the UK, which is handing out first doses apace to bring down infections and hospital admissions. Research in Scotland showed a 94% decrease in patients ending up in hospital after a first dose of the drug.
Luxembourg had already announced last week it would increase the gap between two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from four to ten weeks, following the example of the UK again, as a first dose of the vaccine grants around 76% of protection against the virus for up to 3 months.
Instead of saving half of the vaccine for a second dose weeks down the line, the country will now use three-quarters for a first dose immediately. There will be no change in how the other two vaccines, by pharmaceutical companies BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna will be administered, Lenert said.
Globally, the coronavirus has slowed down drastically as countries kept tight social restrictions in place and more people received a vaccination. There are now 2.5 million new cases on average each week, compared to 5 million at the beginning of the year, the Financial Times reported.
In Luxembourg, the reproduction rate of the virus has exceeded the 1% threshold, indicating that Covid-19 is picking up speed again, as the ratio indicaties that one person on average infects more than one other.
Switzerland on Tuesday added Luxembourg back on the list of high-risk countries, meaning that anyone who travels there will have to stay in quarantine after arriving in the country.
Luxembourg has recently overtaken countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, in the number of vaccinations given out per day relative to the size of its population, the Our World in Data website shows.
Yet its vaccination campaign is one of the slowest in Europe, which itself is dramatically lagging behind the UK and the US. Current data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Luxembourg has so far administered only around 55% of the vaccines it has available.
Part of that is explained by a low turn-out in vaccination centres and Luxembourg’s government top doctor, Jean-Claude Schmit, acknowledged the population might be sceptical about the AstraZeneca vaccine.
During the British-Swedish drugmaker’s row with the EU over vaccine supplies, the French government and a report in German newspaper Handelsblatt cast doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccine in certain age-groups. In Germany, there is widespread scepticisim among people about the AstraZeneca drug.