ANALYSIS: How close is Germany to receiving a Covid-19 vaccine?

The EU has reached a deal on a promising Covid-19 vaccine that is partially developed in Germany. What happens next and what does it mean for Germany?

ANALYSIS: How close is Germany to receiving a Covid-19 vaccine?
People walking in Stuttgart in October. Experts say it will take some time for the whole population to become immune to Covid-19 through past illness or vaccination. Photo: DPA

The agreement could see Europe secure 200 million doses of a new promising coronavirus vaccine being developed by Mainz-based BioNTech and US pharma giant Pfizer.

“Negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry have been concluded,” European Commission circles confirmed to DPA in Brussels on Tuesday. “The contract is in the bag.”

It is set to be approved on Wednesday by the Commission.

Does that mean the pandemic is coming to an end?

Not quite. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, according to Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Europe has overcome a crucial hurdle on the way to the first coronavirus vaccine, said German daily Welt on Tuesday. It means that – all going well – the vaccine should be available to people across Europe as soon as it is approved.

READ MORE: How Germany is preparing for the coronavirus vaccination

What does Germany want?

Germany wants to receive up to 100 million doses. This was the federal government's starting point in the EU talks, Spahn, of the Christian Democrats (CDU), said in Berlin on Tuesday.

Once the contract has been concluded, all 27 EU countries will have access to first deliveries at the same time. They will be distributed according to population size. Germany has a share of about 19 percent.

The EU Commission has been negotiating with BioNTech and Pfizer for months. After preliminary talks, the authority had declared in September that it wanted to purchase up to 300 million vaccine doses from the manufacturers. However, a framework agreement had not yet been concluded – unlike with three other vaccine manufacturers.

File photo shows someone receiving a flu jab. Photo: DPA

How fast is the process?

Spahn expects there to be speedy approval process. This means that not all data will be collected first and then submitted to the authorities after the end of the registration trial, as is usually the case.

This time, the data will be exchanged directly. Both a US and a European approval could be granted very quickly. Spahn assured the public, however, that there would be no reduction in the quality and safety standards.

As an attractive pharmaceutical market, Germany, like other large EU countries, could have concluded a contract with the companies on its own, said Spahn.

READ ALSO: Germany expects 'up to 100 million doses' of coronavirus vaccine

But France, Italy and the Netherlands had strongly advocated that the Commission should undertake the process for all EU countries. Otherwise smaller states would have been at a disadvantage.

“This is sometimes a bit more laborious, but in the end, if we stand together, we are stronger together,” said Spahn.

Who will get the vaccine first in Germany?

Spahn announced there will be a major information campaign in Germany when there is an approved coronavirus vaccination. Authorities will also aim to explain “why we are prioritising and who will be vaccinated first”.

First in line to be vaccinated against Covid-19 will be older people, those with pre-existing conditions, health and care workers, police officers, firefighters, teachers and educators. This was recommended by the German Ethics Council, the Leopoldina Academy of Science and the Standing Vaccination Committee.

Spahn has previously said that up to 40 percent of residents in Germany belonged to a risk group.

Information will also be provided to the public on how the vaccine is administered, as well as the possible risks or side effects.

Two doses of vaccine per person would be necessary for immunisation, meaning that large amounts will have to be produced.

Other members of the public will only be vaccinated after the priority groups.

When will the first people in Germany receive it?

Health Minister Spahn is optimistic. There's a “very high probability” that the first vaccinations will take place in the first quarter of 2021,” he said.

“This is light at the end of the tunnel,” Spahn added: “This gives me, and I wish for all citizens, strength – even for the months that are difficult – to know that there is at least a good chance that next autumn and winter will be much better than this one.”

This prospect should also encourage people “to take special care of each other this winter and to stick to the rules”, he said.

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek, of the CDU, is counting on large-scale production of the vaccine.

“It will now be important to produce the vaccine as quickly and in large quantities as possible,” Karliczek told DPA.

Social Democrat (SPD) health expert Karl Lauterbach said on Monday to broadcaster ARD that there were still many unanswered questions, such as whether people who had been vaccinated could be infected with coronavirus again or be contagious to others.

A sign telling people to wear masks in the central zone of Erfurt, Thuringia. Photo: DPA

Meanwhile, according to Lauterbach, it will take at least a year before the whole of Germany is vaccinated to reach “herd immunity”.

It's only after this time that there can be a discussion about not wearing face coverings or socially distancing, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the weekend that the central task is to make the population as a whole immune to the virus. If 60 to 70 percent of the population is immune – through vaccination or a past illness – the virus is “more or less defeated”.

What's the latest on the potential vaccine?

BioNTech and Pfizer said on Monday that initial results from their trial found it to provide 90 percent protection.

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

Scientists say they haven't found any safety concerns in their trials, although tests are continuing. BioNTech said immunisation could “last for at least a year” but we don't know this for sure yet as not enough time has passed.

An application for approval, initially in the US, is expected to be filed next week at the earliest.

Will it be mandatory?

No. The vaccination will be voluntary. Surveys suggest the majority of Germans are willing to get vaccinated although anti-vaccination campaigners and conspiracy theorists have railed heavily against any potential Covid vaccine.

Member comments

  1. In other words: “We’re irresponsibly releasing preliminary results that don’t tell us anything because they make our future product look good and will generate a lot of excited media headlines in the mainstream corporate media that we fund with our advertising dollars.”

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now