‘A question of life and death’: Can Germany speed up the Covid-19 vaccination rollout?

Germany has started its mass vaccination programme. But there are calls to increase production and speed of the rollout.

'A question of life and death': Can Germany speed up the Covid-19 vaccination rollout?
Helga Klingseisen receives the vaccination in Germering, Bavaria, on Sunday. Photo: DPA

It was an historic weekend as Germany, and other EU countries, began vaccinating the most vulnerable and at risk members of society against coronavirus.

And, as we reported, 101-year-old Edith Kwoizalla became the first person in the country to receive the injection on Sunday.  Kwoizalla was one of around 40 residents and 10 staff in a care home in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt to receive the first jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

However, it will still take time before large parts of the population have their turn. The timetable is too long for some, including Free Democrats (FDP) leader Christian Lindner.

There are expected to be around 10 million doses available to Germany by the end of March, being administered in 400 vaccination centres across the country.

The vaccination is first offered to the very elderly (over 80s) in care homes and frontline workers, then it moves on to other older people, starting with the over 70s. The jab will then be offered to risk groups (those with pre-existing health conditions). The general public should start to be offered the vaccination by mid-2021.

READ MORE: How Germany will roll out Covid-19 vaccinations after Christmas

'Crisis situation'

Lindner called for a faster pace of the vaccine production. “It's a crisis situation, we need crisis production,” said the FDP leader in a Bild programme on Sunday evening.

He added that Germany must do everything possible – legally, economically, politically and from a technology perspective – to ensure that vaccinations can be produced more quickly.

“This is a question of life and death, a question of our freedom. And it's a question of survival for our economy too, because it's already in intensive care wards,” he said.

Specifically, Lindner suggested thinking about whether a scarce vaccine like BioNTech's could be produced under licence by other manufacturers.

He said: “The government should check with the pharmaceutical industry as a whole: where is there still capacity that can be used to produce a vaccine?”

Left party health politician Achim Kessler also backed this move. He told Der Spiegel that under law the Health Minister “can force companies to grant a licence to other companies for post-production”.

He added that the government must do this quickly. “If the federal government does not exhaust all legal possibilities now, it will endanger countless lives,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 vaccine plan in Germany: 'Protecting the most vulnerable is first goal'

'We are running out of time'

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder also warned of negative consequences due to supply bottlenecks. “Endless waiting reduces the willingness of the population to be vaccinated,” said the Christian Social Union (CSU) leader.

Social Democrat (SPD) health politician Karl Lauterbach also issued a warning. “Vaccination is off to a good start. But the problem is that we can only vaccinate five million people with the available vaccine by the end of March,” he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND). “However, we are running out of time. The virus has already formed mutations.”

Critics had accused the EU and Germany of ordering too few vaccine doses, which is why other countries around the world are making faster progress with vaccinations. Lindner said that the German government had adjusted its order “very late” and only ordered 30 million additional doses shortly before Christmas, while others had already completed their orders.

However, pharmaceutical bosses rejected the idea that vaccine production is starting too slowly.

“We are seeing the first Corona vaccinations in Germany six days after approval, and we will have significantly more vaccinations in January because more and more of the quantities ordered by the government are being delivered,” the president of the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), Han Steutel, told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

He pointed out that production capacity for the Covid-19 vaccine was being ramped up everywhere in Germany. “And any other manufacturer that gets approval will also be quick to market with pre-produced batches,” he said.

In Germany, mobile teams were deployed on Sunday to first vaccinate people over 80 in nursing homes as well as care workers and hospital staff at particular risk.

The first “highest priority” group comprises around 8.6 million people.

Initially, only about 150,000 vaccine doses are available nationwide. By the end of 2020, 1.3 million vaccine doses should be available, and by the end of March, more than 10 million doses.

Germany has around 83 million people.


Vaccinations – (die) Impfungen

Vaccine production – (die) Impfstoffproduktion

Willingness of the population – (die) Bereitschaft der Bevölkerung

Risk groups – (die) Risikogruppen

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. Sure, great idea, you take two vaccines, you will still be socially distancing & wearing masks, nothing will change for us all. It’s not about a vaccine. Wake up to what is really going on here.

  2. Where is your evidence, shouting from the roof tops does not help. Statements like “People are not interested in a vaccine” is patently untrue, people are interested in the vaccine. “Some people” are not interested in the vaccine is more accurate, and is true. Indeed some doctors and nurses have expressed reservations about being vaccinated but they are prepared to give an explanation as to why. Your statement that we will still be wearing masks for some time to come is true, probably until the autumn when we hope most of the population will have been vaccinated. I for one will be having the vaccination and all the people I know can’t wait to be vaccinated.
    One more thing WHY are you paying for lies.

  3. Whats “going on” is a pandemic for which, hopefully, there is a end in sight in the form of vaccines. As I say, people dont have to be vaccinated so be my guest and refuse it if you like. I dont mind – it means I progress faster up the queue.

  4. For what reason do you need the vaccine? Do you have an underlying health condition, or are you elderly? The vaccine is simply effective in reducing the symptoms of sars-cov2 covid-19. It will NOT prevent transmission to another person. For this reason Government persists we lock all small businesses down, prevent people from earning a living, we must also still social-distance & wear masks even after getting a covid-19 vaccine. So I ask for what reason would an average person need vaccination? You are not saving a life by taking this vaccine. You would only reduce the symptoms for yourself, if you get covid.

  5. Do you have a source for your claim, Adrian? According to the WHO’s statements yesterday, they do not yet have any evidence concerning vaccines’ effects on transmissibility one way or the other. That’s a very, very far cry from your claim that they do not prevent transmission at all. Absence of evidence =/= evidence of absence. If you have a source, please produce it.

    But to respond to your question, even if the vaccine did not reduce transmissibility at all (which, again, we do not know to be the case), it would still be worth taking solely due to the fact that it induced immunity in the recipient, and would facilitate reaching herd immunity while minimizing stress on the healthcare system.

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For members


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.