German Health Minister hopeful that ‘way out of the pandemic has begun’

German Health Minister hopeful that 'way out of the pandemic has begun'
Spahn (right) gives an elbow bump greeting to parliamentary health expert Karl Lauterbach (SPD) ahead of Friday's press conference. Photo: DPA
Germany's shutdown in place since November is having a noticeable affect, said Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Friday. He advised caution with a possible new vaccine, however.

“We are seeing a positive trend in the case numbers,” said Spahn at the federal press conference. “The 7-day incidence is below 100 again, the tough measures are actually making a difference, they are working.”

On Friday, Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a seven-day-incidence of 94 infections per 100,000 residents.

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But that is not enough, according to Spahn. “We want to bring the numbers down further.”

He added that the country's vaccine campaign would play a large role in getting – and keeping – the numbers below the desired seven-day-incidence of 50, when infection chains are easily traceable.

Spahn said he was pleased that more than 3.5 million vaccine doses had already been distributed in Germany's 16 states – of which 2.2 million had been given out.

In the first quarter of 2021, he said, the aim was to offer vaccination to all those over 80.

READ ALSO: At what point could Germany begin easing Covid restrictions?

Vaccine campaign

In the meantime, Germany expects EU regulator EMA to impose restrictions when it authorises the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the bloc as efficacy data for older people is insufficient, Spahn said.

“We're not expecting an authorisation without limits,” he told a press conference, adding that the approval could possibly carry specific indications with regards to usage in elderly people.

How strongly the warning would be worded remains to be seen, Spahn added.

The EMA is on Friday due to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with the University of Oxford.

Germany's vaccine commission has said it cannot recommend the use of the jabs on people aged 65 years and older because efficacy data for the group were lacking.

Klaus Cichutek, who heads Germany's medical regulatory body Paul Ehrlich Institut, said the “foundations have essentially been laid for an approval with no restrictions for age groups” but that it would possibly be “pointed out that the data is weaker for older people”.

“As you know, the basis for approval, especially for vaccines, must be that the benefits far outweigh the risks,” said Cichutek.

AstraZeneca and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have defended the jabs, which have already been widely used in Britain on older people.

However, Spahn said the vaccine was fitting for other age groups. “”But the vaccine is easier to handle, it can be stored at refrigerator temperatures,” Spahn said.