German research suggests infection offers little immunity to coronavirus

A research projected completed in the German state of Bavaria found that people infected with coronavirus lose their antibodies to the virus just months after beating the disease, giving rise to concerns about the effectiveness of herd immunity.

German research suggests infection offers little immunity to coronavirus
New research indicates that those infected with coronavirus may be able to catch it again. Photo: DPA

The research project, completed by the Munich Clinic Schwabing, found that the concentration of antibodies in the blood decreases rapidly in the months following an infection. 

The findings dampen hope of long-lasting immunity for those who have beaten the virus.

The findings give credence to reports out of South Korea and China that some people had been infected with the virus despite having previously recovered from it. 

The project looked at patients who had recovered from the virus from January onwards. 

It found that while neutralising antibodies were formed in the blood during the time in which the person was infected, these declined in the following months. 

“In four of the nine patients, we see falling neutralising antibodies in a very special test that can only be carried out in a high-security laboratory,” said Clemens Wendtner, chief physician of the local clinic for infectious diseases.

“The extent to which this has an impact on long-term immunity and vaccination strategies is still speculative, but must be monitored critically as it progresses.”

READ ALSO: Germany ramps up antibody tests

The researchers said more work needed to be done to determine the extent to which these declining antibodies could prevent further infection. 

A similar study in China found that antibodies decreased sharply two months after the initial infection, while those who did not develop symptoms from the virus were more likely to accrue fewer antibodies than those who fell sick. 

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.