Slim chance of faster vaccinations as campaign enters new phase
Luxembourg provided little hope it would speed up the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, as questions around deliveries lingered and the European Commission increasingly came under pressure about its joint procurement programme of the much-needed drugs.
An earlier timetable showing Luxembourg is set to receive 84,600 doses by the end of March - enough to incoluate just above 40,000 people or less than 10% of the population - had not materially changed, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said at a press conference.
The country hopes to receive around 11,000 doses next week of a vaccine from British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca that was approved by the European Medicines Agency on 29 January, Lenert said, but the deliveries have yet to be confirmed.
Lenert could not say how many doses the country expects to receive of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of March. It requires two shots per patient to be effective, as do the only two other vaccines that are in use from US/German group Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, a US company.
The arrival of the new drug could help bring forward the second phase of the vaccination drive by a week around the beginning of March, Lenert said.
The second stage will see some vulnerable people and people above the age of 75 receive the inoculation after healthcare workers and elderly people in retirement homes were treated in the first phase.
Even the government's current estimate for deliveries by the end of March is subject to uncertainty, a table published on Monday showed, with several shipments by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer yet to be confirmed.
Low turnout at the country's main vaccination centre is also plaguing the campaign. Just between 43% and 48% of those who have received invites actually show up, though 86% of residents in care homes participate.
The country has so far administered 10,748 first doses, mostly in hospitals, and 1,680 second doses, making the Grand Duchy's programme one of the slowest in the European Union.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been marred by a row between the company and the European Union after the company said it would cut down its deliveries in the first quarter. The EU then took the unusual step of publishing a redacted procurement contract with the company on Friday, which the bloc said was not living up to its promises.
People on Twitter said some hidden parts of the contract were still easy to read by using a specific function in the software displaying it.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that AstraZeneca will deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter compared to an offer last week, and would start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled. Yet the overall number is still around half of the doses the Commission expected in the first quarter this year.
Von der Leyen, who is German, caused a diplomatic spat on Friday in the process by putting in place an "exports control mechanism" which gave Brussels the power to block vaccine exports to several countries.
The decision led to global outrage and von der Leyen was forced to quickly altered the plan, which could have seen border controls imposed between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, potentially jeopardising the still sensitive peace process in the region.