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VACCINE

‘We need a clear plan on how to vaccinate faster in Germany’

Politicians across Germany are calling for a 'vaccination summit' to discuss how the country can move faster to inoculate the population.

'We need a clear plan on how to vaccinate faster in Germany'
A sign pointing to a vaccination centre in Eberswalde, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

Germany began vaccinating against coronavirus a month ago. But due to a mix of supply shortages and logistical challenges, as well as concern over the organisation in states, it's been sluggish start.

As of January 26th, 1,672,215 people (two percent of the total population) had received their first Covid-19 jab and 318,674 people had been given the second dose.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), now says he is open to a so-called vaccination summit.

During an interview with radio broadcaster NDR Info, Spahn suggested a meeting with state premiers of federal states, and representatives of the pharmaceutical manufacturers to discuss how Germany can vaccinate at a more efficient pace.

Several Social Democrat (SPD) politicians as well as the Free Democrats (FDP) have repeatedly called for a summit in view of the vaccine shortage and the slow start of the campaign.

Among those urging for action are the heads of government in Rhineland-Palatinate and Brandenburg, Malu Dreyer and Dietmar Woidke (both SPD).

SPD Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil told DPA: “We need a clear plan on how to get vaccinations done faster in Germany.”

“For this, it is important that all levels come together now.”

EXPLAINED: What's gone wrong with Germany's vaccine strategy?

However, the Federal Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry previously expressed negative views on the idea of a summit. “The acute issues are not political, but regulatory and technological,” association head Hans-Georg Feldmeier told DPA.

“These questions cannot be answered at a summit with politicians.”

The chart below by Our World in Data gives an idea of where Germany stands on its vaccination campaign compared to other countries.

It came as the state of Lower Saxony opened its appointment line to elderly people who live in the community.

As of Thursday, everyone over 80 can register for a vaccination appointment. Altogether, there are about 550,000 people living in Lower Saxony who are age 80 and above.

They can either call the hotline (0800) 99 88 665 or visit the website www.impfportal-niedersachsen.de.

States have been focusing on care home residents and staff and then moving on to other elderly people.

According to the government, information on the start of vaccinations for other groups will be provided in due course.

READ ALSO: How long might it take to get a coronavirus vaccination in Germany?

'Legal battle is last thing we need'

In the EU Commission's row with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over its vaccine supplies, Spahn said he was counting on negotiating.

A long legal battle over the disclosure of supply contracts would not help in the current situation, he said.

“That is the last thing we need,” Spahn told NDR Info. Instead, he said, it must be about a fair distribution of the vaccine. He is counting on an amicable outcome, he said. “That is certainly the better way.”

Reports said last week that the EU would get 60 percent fewer doses of the vaccine than promised for January-March this year.

The EU stuck to its position after the two sides met on Wednesday evening to try to resolve the issue.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted that the EU regretted the “continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule”.

“We will work with the company to find solutions and deliver vaccines rapidly for EU citizens,” she said.

The drug is expected to be approved in the EU on Friday.

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

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COVID-19

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. 

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