Fourth virus wave likely, says chief medical officer

Luxembourg’s chief medical officer Jean-Claude Schmit, pictured during a February 2020 press conference Photo: Matic Zorman

Luxembourg’s chief medical officer Jean-Claude Schmit, pictured during a February 2020 press conference Photo: Matic Zorman

Luxembourg’s chief medical officer Jean-Claude Schmit has warned of another wave of coronavirus infections this autumn, saying that many aged between 18 and 50 remain unvaccinated.

“Last year, we had a relatively big wave of infections in October–November. It can be assumed that there will be a wave this year. Probably not as big, because vaccinations work, and probably not as bad, because severe types of illness are rarer because of vaccinations,” Schmit said during an interview with broadcaster RTL.

It would be naïve to assume that there wouldn’t be an increase in infections come autumn, he said, adding that infections rates, the number of patients in hospital and other indicators are consistently monitored.

Among the reasons for a potential wave is the Delta variant of the coronavirus, the most common in the grand duchy, making up nearly 95% of cases diagnosed.

“It’s a variant that is more transmissible,” Schmit said. “It is probably more aggressive, and vaccines potentially don’t work as well as against the other variants; this is still under discussion.”

More than 385,000 people in Luxembourg are fully vaccinated. But while the age bracket over 50 boasts a vaccination rate of more than 80%, those aged 18 to 50 lag behind at just around 50 to 60%, Schmit said.

“For me, this is the priority category,” the chief medical officer said, saying that most infections occur in this group at the moment among those who are unprotected but also have a lot of social contact.

“We need the collective vaccine protection,” Schmit said, adding that authorities will work on making jabs as accessible as possible, for example using the vaccination bus or drop-in sessions without appointments at vaccination centres.

Booster shots

Luxembourg is yet to decide whether it will recommend booster shots for the general public. The government on 11 August said it would make extra doses available for at-risk groups, such as people with impaired immunity. But it is waiting on feedback from the country’s infectious diseases council on whether to extend this to the elderly or people who were vaccinated more than five months ago.

Israel started administering booster jabs to people aged 60 or older in July. It has since dropped this age limit to 40 and extended eligibility to frontline workers and pregnant women below this age provided their second shot was more than five months ago.

Schmit said the EU would receive data from Israel on the effectiveness of this course of action.

And Luxembourg will begin analysing breakthrough infections more closely, he said. Around 20 to 25% of cases appear in people who are fully vaccinated, he said. The health department will now study how long people were vaccinated, which vaccine they received as well as underlying risk factors.

The government has not announced what restrictions will come into force mid-September when the current laws expire.

“We are a country where measures are comparatively lax at the moment,” said Schmit. “But we still have a series of things in place.” Among these, Schmit listed the CovidCheck and an obligation to wear masks in public places.