Vaccinations drop by 15% in a week in Luxembourg
By John Monaghan and Yannick Hansen
The number of vaccine doses administered in Luxembourg dropped by more than 15% in the last week of February, laying bare the extent to which the country’s sluggish inoculation programme is struggling to get off the ground.
Just 6,812 doses were dispensed in the country in the week up to February 28, according to the latest figures from the health ministry. This marked a sharp decline from the previous week, when 8,092 shots were issued.
The Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment when asked for a reason for the drop.
Daily vaccination figures in Luxembourg are also remaining flat, with the number of doses administered each day sitting at a consistent level - with a handful of exceptions - of around 1,400 since mid-February.
The slow vaccine uptake coincides with a rising number of infections, with a further 5% increase in new cases last week and hospitalisations at levels not seen in almost two months.
The figures came out as the World Health Organization painted a gloomy picture about how swiftly Europe would return to normality.
Countries in central and eastern Europe are particularly affected, with cases up by 9% on the entire continent compared to last week, the WHO said.
Most new infections come from within communities and are mostly driven by young people, who will be the last receive a vaccination, the WHO's Catherine Smallwood said in an online panel discussion on Thursday.
At the same time, more infectious strains of the virus are rapidly spreading, the WHO said. A strain first discovered in the UK is now present in 43 European countries and accounts for roughly half of new infections on the continent. It is believed to be 50% more contagious than the original strain.
The so-called South African and Brazilian variants have spread to 26 and 15 countries in Europe, respectively, although cases are predominantly associated to travellers returning from affected countries, the WHO said.
But the WHO also offered a glimmer of hope. Results from Israel and the UK indiciated that hospitalisations and deaths amongst vaccinated groups are declining sharply. Luxembourg is hoping to fully vaccinate just over 75,000 people by the end of this month, the government said this week, a slight increase on the figure of 71,335 predicted in mid-February.
However, the ministry added that the estimated number is “dependent on factory production and delivery” issues.
Luxembourg’s vaccination programme trails that of many of its European neighbours and is far behind the likes of the US and the UK.
Following difficulties obtaining vaccine doses in the first weeks of the year, the country’s rollout is now being hampered by a problem of a different kind, with one in two people invited for a vaccination not showing up.
On Friday, government ministers are to discuss a recommendation made in the latest report from Luxembourg’s infectious disease council that the AstraZeneca jab will now be given to all people regardless of age, after saying earlier those aged 65 and over should get a different medicine.
Earlier this week government officials announced that the first invitations for AstraZeneca vaccinations have been sent to those aged 65 and under.
Separately, the education ministry had ordered 60,000 masks for primary school teachers, according to a response to a parliamentary question. There were a further 351 cases of Covid-19 in schools in the last week of February.
Public transport also battened down the hatches, with Luxembourg’s tram network announcing the introduction of hand sanitiser both on board and at stations so passengers can safely hold on once inside the vehicle.
(Additional reporting by Kate Oglesby)