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"Virus outpacing us" Luxembourg health expert says

"Virus outpacing us" Luxembourg health expert says

by Yannick Lambert and Jeff Wiltzius 2 min. 15.02.2021 From our online archive
More rapid vaccination campaign would reduce the possibility of dangerous mutations
The Luxembourg Institute of Health in Belval in the south of Luxembourg Photo: Guy Jallay
The Luxembourg Institute of Health in Belval in the south of Luxembourg Photo: Guy Jallay

Countries should speed up their vaccination campaigns to avoid the coronavirus from changing into more dangerous forms, a Luxembourg health expert has said, as the Grand Duchy continues to lag behind other European countries in handing out the injections.

"The virus is currently outpacing us", Markus Ollert, a professor at the Luxembourg Institute of Health told the Luxemburger Wort newspaper in an interview on Sunday.

Strains of the virus that are more infections, potentially more deadly and more resistant to the current vaccines such as the so-called British and South-African variants have already popped up in Luxembourg.

The slow pace of vaccinations across the world increases the risk for the virus to mutate even further, possibly reducing the efficiency of the currently available vaccines, Ollert said.

Luxembourg is not just lagging behind world leaders Israel, the United Arab Emirates, UK and US in administering doses per capita, but also Malta, Denmark, Romania, Italy, and Spain in the EU, data from various national statistics collated by Our World in Data shows.

As of 15 February, the Grand Duchy has administered 22,895 doses, or less than 3% of the population and the country does not vaccinate people over weekends. At the same time, the country extended pandemic restrictions until 14 March as it fails to get a grip on new infections.

On Monday, the death toll climbing up by four to 611, roughly one resident in thousand. And while the number of patients that need treatment in hospital remains relatively low, the total of active infections has refused to move much below 2,500 cases for weeks now.

Luxembourg has purchased vaccines through the EU's joint procurement scheme which has received considerable criticism. By the end of March, Luxembourg is set to have enough doses available to vaccinate just above 42,000 people, less than 10% of residents.

So far, Europe has authorised vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca for use on the continent.

Whilst the UK is leading the European vaccination race, it is lagging behind in full vaccinations that require two doses, as the country has delayed handing out the second dose. UK authorities have cited studies that have shown that a first dose does offer some level of protection against the infection, although not as much as two doses.

Ollert said he found the approach "unproblematic", saying that a "basic vaccination" with a vaccine based on so-called mRNA technology - such as those by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer - could be supplemented by the AstraZeneca vaccine, which uses a more commonly known technology.

The joint procurement programme has also ordered vaccines from Johnson&Johnson, Curevac and Sanofi. Whilst the former is expected to receive a market authorisation by the European Medicine's Agency by March, the other two are still in development.

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