Germany expects ‘up to 100 million’ doses of promising Covid-19 vaccine

The EU Commission has finalised negotiations on a contract for the supply of the promising vaccine being developed by Germany's BioNTech and US firm Pfizer.

Germany expects 'up to 100 million' doses of promising Covid-19 vaccine
German Health Minister Jens Spahn. Photo: DPA

“The negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry have been concluded,” Commission circles confirmed to DPA in Brussels on Tuesday.

Before the announcement, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday he had expected the final contract to be completed in the coming days, reported the Tagesspiegel.

According to the preliminary agreement between the EU and Mainz-based BioNTech plus US Pharma giant Pfizer, at least 200 million vaccine doses are guaranteed for Europe. Spahn said he expected that Germany would receive “up to 100 million” doses.

While speaking to ZDF on Monday night, Spahn said it was important for Germany to receive the vaccine quickly.

“As German Health Minister, I would in any case find it difficult to explain if a vaccine produced in Germany were to be issued faster in other regions of the world than in Germany itself,” Spahn said.

He said the federal government is putting pressure on the EU Commission “to ensure that the contract is signed without delay”.

BioNTech and Pfizer said on Monday their vaccine candidate prevents the lung disease Covid-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, in more than 90 percent of cases.

READ ALSO: Four things to know about the German firm leading the Covid-19 vaccine race

They announced their findings during an ongoing clinical trial. The two firms are now applying for accelerated approval of the vaccine in the US.

Spahn said that the approval procedures in the US and in the EU are different. However, there were also possibilities for acceleration in Europe. At the same time, the Minister emphasised that there would be no reduction in requirements, for example on potential side effects of vaccines.

The vaccine candidate would be subject to “the same high standards” as any other, Spahn said.

This is “very important” in order to gain people's confidence in this potential vaccine, he said.

A July study from the University of Heidelberg revealed that 55 percent of Germans would receive a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.

'A little bit proud'

Spahn said the success was “very encouraging in any case” and gave the world confidence.

“As things stand today, we will have a vaccine for a new virus quicker than ever before in human history. An effectiveness of 90 percent is very high. By comparison, a flu vaccine is only 50 or 60 percent effective,” Spahn, of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said.

The Minister revealed he was also “a little bit proud” that a company supported by the federal government was “now at the forefront of research on the corona vaccine”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – How Germany is preparing for the coronavirus vaccination

As The Local has been reporting Germany is pushing ahead with preparations for the vaccine. States are currently earmarking test centres and a database will be established to track who has been vaccinated for coronavirus.

According to Spahn, the EU has already concluded agreements with the pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca and Sanofi, which are also working on coronavirus vaccines.

A contract with Johnson & Johnson has nearly been concluded, said Spahn.

What's the latest on the coronavirus situation?

In Germany, health authorities reported 15,332 new Covid-19 infections to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) within 24 hours on Tuesday.

According to the RKI, a total of 687,200 people have been infected with Sars-CoV-2 in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic.

The number of deaths in connection with the virus rose by 154 to a total of 11,506 by Tuesday. The RKI estimates that around 429,600 people have now recovered.

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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.