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Germany says coronavirus vaccine research not for sale

Germany's Foreign Minister said Monday the rights to coronavirus vaccine research were not for sale, following reports Donald Trump wanted the US to buy exclusive access to a potential vaccine developed by a German biotech firm.

Germany says coronavirus vaccine research not for sale
File photo shows a doctor administering a vaccination. Photo: DPA

The comments, made in an interview to the German media group Funke, come as scientists raced to develop a vaccine against the deadly coronavirus that has killed some 6,000 people, seen millions placed under lockdown and devastated global markets.

“German researchers play a leading role in drug and vaccine development and we cannot allow others to seek exclusive results,” Heiko Maas told Funke.

Citing sources close to the German government, Die Welt newspaper had previously reported that Trump had offered “a billion dollars” to secure research into a vaccine by German biotech firm CureVac “only for the United States”.

“Germany is not for sale,” economy minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster ARD on Sunday, reacting to the report.

At a news conference, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was asked to confirm the attempts to court the German company.

“I can only say that I have heard several times today from government officials today that this is the case, and we will be discussing it in the crisis committee tomorrow,” he said.

CureVac said in a statement Sunday that it “abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology”.

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Fury

The report prompted fury in Berlin.

“International cooperation is important now, not national self-interest,” said Erwin Rueddel, a conservative lawmaker on the German parliament's health committee.

A US official told AFP Sunday that the report was “wildly overplayed”.

“The US government has spoken with many (more than 25) companies that claim they can help with a vaccine. Most of these companies already received seed funding from US investors.”

The official also denied that the US was seeking to keep any potential vaccine for itself.

“We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help.

And any solution found would be shared with the world.”

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

'Take action'

CureVac, founded in 2000, is based in the German state of Thuringia, and has other sites in Frankfurt and Boston.

The firm markets itself as specialising in “development of treatments against cancer, antibody-based therapies, treatment of rare illnesses and prophylactic vaccines”.

The lab is currently working in tandem with the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, linked to the German health ministry.

Last week, the firm mysteriously announced that CEO Daniel Menichella had been replaced by Ingmar Hoerr, just weeks after Menichella met with Trump, his vice president Mike Pence and representatives of pharma companies in
Washington.

“We are very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months,” CureVac quoted Menichella as saying on its website shortly after the visit.

On Sunday, CureVac investors said that they would not sell the vaccine to a single state.

“If we are successful in developing an effective vaccine, then it should help and protect people across the world,” said Dietmar Hopp, head of principal investor dievini Hopp Biotech Holding, in a statement.

Economy minister Altmaier welcomed the statement, saying it was a “fantastic decision”.

He also pointed out that the government has the power to scrutinise foreign takeovers, saying that “where important infrastructure and national and European interests are concerned, we will take action if we have to.”

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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