How one German firm is racing to ramp up Covid-19 vaccine production

Germany's BioNTech, one of the lead contenders in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, said Thursday it was buying a new manufacturing site to quickly ramp up production once its vaccine gets the green light.

How one German firm is racing to ramp up Covid-19 vaccine production
Archive photo shows a lab employee in BioNTech's headquarters in Mainz. Photo: DPA

The firm said it had agree to acquire a “state-of-the-art” production facility in the western German city of Marburg from Swiss pharma giant Novartis.

“This acquisition reflects BioNTech's commitment to significantly expanding its manufacturing capacity in order to supply a potential vaccine worldwide upon authorisation or approval,” finance chief Sierk Poetting said in a statement.

READ ALSO: US secures potential coronavirus vaccine co-developed in Germany

The Marburg site will scale up BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine production capacity by up to 750 million additional doses per year, or over 60 million doses per month, “once fully operational”, the statement added.

No financial details were revealed.

The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020, and the 300 Novartis staff at the site will switch to working for BioNTech.

Mainz-based BioNTech is teaming up with US behemoth Pfizer to develop a coronavirus vaccine using new technology based on mRNA, a type of genetic material never before used to make a vaccine.

They already have one vaccine candidate in the late-stage Phase 3 trial that is currently being tested on around 30,000 volunteers.

Just eight other vaccine candidates globally have reached this stage so far.

The European Union, the United States and several other countries have already announced large contracts to secure millions of doses of the possible BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine once it clears all the necessary regulatory hurdles.

READ ALSO: 'Important milestone': Germany to start first clinical tests on coronavirus vaccine

Ahead of the Marburg acquisition, BioNTech said it planned to supply up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 if its vaccine is successful, and 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Next year's number is now expected to be “significantly” higher, a spokeswoman told AFP.

The Marburg purchase comes just days after BioNTech received a 375-million-euro funding boost from the German government .

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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.