Vaccinations drop, not clear when Lenert will return
By Yannick Hansen and Kate Oglesby
The number of coronavirus vaccinations dropped by 20% in Luxembourg last week - a further setback for what is already one of the slowest roll-outs in Europe - while Health Minister Paulette Lenert remained on sick leave without a clear date for when she would return.
Other numbers made clear Covid-19 was showing no signs of letting up. The number of people who were found to carry the deadly virus increased by 7.7% to 1,684 last week, data showed on Wednesday, and the number of people in hospital with the disease rose to 107 from 99 the week before.
Also on Wednesday, Luxembourg recorded 387 new coronavirus cases, almost twice as high as the average level of around 200 of the past weeks.
Lenert suffered a "malaise" last week, which put her briefly in hospital for a medical check-up. On Wednesday she had missed a press conference with Prime Minister Xavier Bettel for medical reasons. It was not clear what was ailing Lenert, who has been recuperating at home ever since.
“At present we cannot make any announcements as to how long the minister will still be recovering for," spokeswoman Monique Putz told the Luxembourg Times. The health ministry will disclose this in due course."
Agriculture Minister Romain Schneider is currently replacing Lenert.
The signs that the fight against the virus is far from over come as Parliament is set to vote about reopening terraces of cafes and bars on Thursday - one day after recording the hottest day in March ever.
Bettel said last week he will try reopening outdoor terraces on 7 April but that he could not take further steps to normalise social life as other countries also battled Covid-19 outbreaks. Last week, a large cluster of cases following a private party of students underscored the lingering risks.
Luxembourg's vaccination campaign is the fourth-slowest in Europe. As of 31 March, Luxembourg had given out 14 doses per 100 people, two below the EU average of 16, according to the research project Our World In Data.
Last week, health workers handed out 12,312 doses of one of the available vaccines, down from 15,201 a week earlier, the ministry said. The total number of vaccines that have been given out now stands at 92,574.
The country has now started inviting people between the ages of 65 and 69 to receive a shot. People considered "moderately vulnerable" with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure will also begin receiving invites.
Confusion over the AstraZeneca jab, which has been associated with cases of thrombosis, also endured. Germany has now suspended the use of the medicine for people under 60, citing cases of blood clots in 31 people after they received the jab, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday night.
Europe's drugs authority, the EMA, said in reaction that a causal link with the vaccine was "possible", but not proven. The blood clotting events were "very rare", it said, adding that it had not "identified any specific risk factors, such as age, gender or a previous medical history of clotting disorders". Two weeks ago, EMA had found the shot “safe and effective”.
Saarland, the German federal state bordering Luxembourg, has stopped using the jab altogether. Two weeks ago, France, Germany and several other countries temporarily suspended AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups. In that case, Luxembourg followed its neighbours in banning the vaccine. But the Grand Duchy did not join Germany this week in restricting it for under 60s.
The health ministry did not respond to a request asking why the country did not follow the decision of German authorities this time round.
Others were eager to receive a vaccination however: a total of 24 people jumped the queue to secure a jab, a senior civil servant stepping in for Lenert said in reply to a parliamentary question on Wednesday.
“The government is aware of 23 people from the hospital sector and one from the care service who received a vaccine without meeting the required criteria at the time”, the response said.
Hospitals had sanctioned the queue jumpers, meting out anything from internal sanctions to legal complaints.
The parliamentary question followed instances of prominent people stepping out of line, including Henri Grethen, a former minister and now director of a Luxembourg care home, and Jean-Louis Schiltz, also a former minister and now governing board member of the Robert Schuman hospital.
In a bout of good news, Pfizer said on Wednesday that its vaccine showed 100% effective in children aged 12 to 15 in early trials. Similar trials are underway for Europe’s other vaccine manufacturers. Presently, the Pfizer-BioNtech serum is authorised for people older than 16 in the EU and is currently the most widely used jab in the continent and in Luxembourg.