Waitlist for AstraZeneca jab opens to volunteers
By Yannick Hansen and Zuzanna Reda-Jakima
Luxembourg will set up a waiting list for people between 30 and 54 years volunteering to receive a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of their scheduled turn as defined in the national roll-out strategy, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Friday.
The decision comes despite advice from the country's top infections diseases body not to administer the AstraZeneca shot to people below the age of 55 because of a possible link to rare cases of blood clots occuring. The government decided not to follow the recommendation.
“It is irresponsible to put tens of thousands of doses in a refrigerator and not to use them,” Bettel said, when explaining the reason behind the waiting list, adding that “the possibility of rare side effects (of a Covid vaccine) is just as low as with other vaccines and medicines”.
The EU pharmaceuticals watchdog, the EMA, is analysing possible links of the vaccine to blood clots, but has said the vaccine is "safe and effective" for all age groups pending its deliberations. The government has weighed in and decided not to restrict the use of the vaccine, sticking to the EMA advice, Bettel said.
Despite falling public trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine across the EU, only no more than 2% of people who were offered the jab turned it down, Bettel said.
Luxembourg’s vaccination campaign will still be targeting people older than 55 and those with medical preconditions “for a few more weeks”, but a surge in supply could speed up the rollout at short notice, Bettel said.
More doses, more vaccinations
Luxembourg will receive enough doses to inoculate another 170,000 people until the end of June, Bettel said, in addition to the almost 153,500 who have had at least one dose already. The number is likely to go up as manufacturers Moderna and AstraZeneca have not confirmed deliveries beyond the end of April.
This week, Luxembourg beat its vaccination record, administering on average over 6,000 jabs per day. “They could even go up (..) perhaps even double”, Bettel said, adding that fluctuations in the roll-out can still occur as the country is dependent on vaccine deliveries by producers.
On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson, the EU’s fourth vaccine supplier, halted deliveries to the bloc after the US government suspended its use over blood clots. EMA is due to issue a recommendation about the safety of the J&J jab on Tuesday. Luxembourg had received just 2,400 doses of the vaccine.
Since the start of the country’s vaccination campaign, seven in 10 people invited to get a shot turned up for their appointment, Bettel said.
Infections and hospitalisations, including on intensive care units, have remained stable for weeks, and the latest waste-water analysis indicates that the virus may be receding in the wider population, Bettel said.
However, those who have to be hospitalised are younger than during previous waves, owing to the impact of the vaccine rollout. New variants may prove to be more lethal than the original strain, Bettel said, mentioning cases of patients in their early 50s who are suffering from serious cases of the disease.
Sports and culture sectors will some further lockdown restrictions eased, once parliament signs off on new guidelines the government also agreed on Friday. Under the new rules, expected to come into force as of 26 April, up to 10 people will be allowed to sing or make music together, as long as they are seated and at least four wear a mask.
Sports venues, like gyms, will see the restriction of a maximum of 10 people lifted. The new rules foresee a minimum space of 10 square metre per head, down from 30 square metre. There will no longer be a limit of the total number of people as long as people can keep at least two metres distance.
Schools will be allowed to resume swimming classes.
The new rules will be in effect until 15 May. “If the situation improves, these restrictions could even be lifted after 15 May,” Agriculture and Social Security Minister Romain Schneider said. Schneider has been filling in for Health Minister Paulette Lenert, who was taken ill in late March. she is expected back at work on Monday.
The government is also working on a set of rules to clarify what an outdoor terrace space is. Under the current restriction that the government has extended until at least 15 May, bars and restaurants can only accommodate people outdoors, and only between 6am and 6pm.
“There has been some confusion as to what defines an outdoor terrace. We will soon present a clear definition of what constitutes an outdoor terrace," Bettel said. This rule, alongside the curfew between 2300 hrs and 0600 the next morning, as well restrictions for the number of people from different households allowed to meet will stay at least until 15 May.