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Luxembourg weighs ordering Russian vaccine

Luxembourg weighs ordering Russian vaccine

by Zuzanna REDA-JAKIMA 4 min. 12.03.2021 From our online archive
Bettel discussed Covid-19 Sputnik jab during call with Russia’s Putin
PM Xavier Bettel spoke to Russia's Vladimir Putin on Wednesday
PM Xavier Bettel spoke to Russia's Vladimir Putin on Wednesday
Photo credit: Gerry Huberty

With Luxembourg's Covid-19 vaccination campaign lagging, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel discussed the availability of Russia's Sputnik V during his telephone call this week with Vladimir Putin. 

Bettel discussed the vaccine, which has not yet been cleared by the European Medicines Agency, with the Russian president during a call the two held on Wednesday, the prime minister's office said on Friday. The call had been described as marking the 130 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. 

The pandemic was a subject of "particular attention" of the Bettel-Putin call, "including the possible prospects for the delivery of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Luxembourg",  the Kremlin said in a statement. 

No specific details were tackled since the Russian vaccine is still under review by EMA, Bettel’s spokeswoman Liz Thelen said in an email. 

"No final decision has yet been made by EU member states if a pooling of orders will be organised or not", Thelen added.

Luxembourg's parliament voted on Friday to extend current coronavirus restrictions until April 2. The rules include an overnight curfew and require bars and restaurants to stay closed.

Member states have agreed to not place separate, competing orders for vaccines the EU decides to buy as a bloc. But Luxembourg could buy from Russia directly if the EU does not pursue a pooled order of Sputnik doses.

Hungary and Slovakia have already purchased their own Sputnik doses and the Czech Republic is also considering ordering the Russian vaccine before it has been authorised by the EMA as safe and effective. Sputnik V’s efficacy was confirmed in peer-reviewed findings published by The Lancet medical journal in February.

Luxembourg and other countries this week suspended use of a big batch of the AstraZeneca jab over concerns it could be linked to life-threatening blood clogs.

Luxembourg had already administered 4,141 doses out of the 4,800-dose batch delivered by AstraZeneca before concerns that originated in Austria suspended their use, the health ministry said on Friday. No case of blood clots have been reported in Luxembourg, the ministry said.

The confirmation on Friday that Luxembourg had already given out more than 85% of its AstraZeneca doses before the decision to suspend their use came after a source close to the health ministry initially said on Thursday that Luxembourg had not administered any injections from the AstraZeneca batch.

It is up to individuals suffering from side effects to report them to their doctors, the health ministry told the Luxembourg Times.

Europe now might face additional pressure to seek other providers to speed up its sluggish vaccination progress. Overall, the EU has so far distributed vaccines to less than 11 people out of 100, compared to 35 in the UK and 29 in the US

Luxembourg's vaccination campaign has picked up again after a 15% drop in weekly inoculations late last month. 

The country broke its daily record for vaccinations on Thursday, with 2,162 first jabs administered, according to health ministry figures, almost 600 more than the previous record in mid-February.

Yet, the country remains near the bottom of the EU list when the overall vaccination rate is adjusted by the population size. Luxembourg has been hampered by delivery disruptions of the AstraZeneca vaccine that are often conveyed to the government at a day’s notice, Lenert told the Luxembourg Times on Monday.

 Further delays

The vaccine roll-out appears further endangered as AstraZeneca will supply less than half the planned number of Covid-19 vaccines to the European Union in the second quarter, Bloomberg reported.

The British-Swedish drug-maker will deliver about 76 million out of a planned 180 million doses, according to data based on delivery projections for one member state seen by the news service. The national figures were extrapolated to the EU level based on the European Commission’s methodology for distributing supplies.

AstraZeneca warned of a shortfall last month after issues with its vaccine yield at EU production sites. It said it was looking to make up the loss by shipping some doses from elsewhere, including US production sites.

Those efforts haven’t panned out because nations have grown increasingly protectionist, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who didn’t want to be identified because the supply details are private. A spokesman for AstraZeneca declined to comment and a spokesman for the commission didn’t respond to a request.

At a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, diplomats were told by senior EU officials that AstraZeneca continues to be “problematic.” They also heard that Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine was approved for use by the EU on Thursday, has yet to provide a delivery schedule for its vaccine.

The EU is extending its vaccine export control mechanism to the end of June from mid-March, citing “persistent delays” in some deliveries.

The EU is expecting to receive almost 400 million vaccine doses in total in the second quarter, with the biggest number coming from the Pfizer/BioNTech product. Another 640 million shots are lined up for the third quarter. The commission has committed to immunizing 70% of adults by the end of September.

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