Germany assures worried states that further 5 million vaccine doses are on the way

Germany's health ministry pledged on Saturday that at least another 5 million vaccine doses will be delivered to the federal states by late February, as concerns grow over mismanagement of the rollout of the vaccine programme.

Germany assures worried states that further 5 million vaccine doses are on the way
Photo: DPA

Health minister Jens Spahn conceded that “the start of the vaccination campaign was difficult” but said that the main vaccine suppliers – Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca – had now pledged to deliver the next 5 million doses to Germany by February 22nd.

According to the health ministry, more than 3.5 million vaccine doses have been delivered so far, and 2.2 million vaccines have been administered since the campaign began five weeks ago.

The AtsraZeneca vaccine, which was approved this week, has been at the centre of a massive row between the EU and the pharma company over the wording of the bloc's purchase contract.

Added to that has been uncertainty over its effectiveness for elderly patients. Germany's vaccine commission – the STIKO – stressed on Friday that it would not recommend that the vaccine is used for anyone over the age of 65. 

STIKO president Thomas Mertens said on Friday that AstraZeneca's data on the vaccine is insufficient to assess its effectiveness in the age group 65 and older.

“We did not evaluate the quality of the vaccine, but the quality of the data,” Mertens stressed. He added that the STIKO will update its recommendations after the company has published more data on its effectiveness in the elderly.

At the same time, he stressed that the safety of the vaccine is beyond doubt.

Criticism of von Der Leyen

The German media is holding EU President Ursula von der Leyen accountable for an increasingly chaotic rollout of the vaccine programme, saying that her handling of the crisis fits into a pattern of bad management of German ministries.

The 62-year-old Christian Democrat has been in a war of words with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over the terms of a contract which the two parties signed last year.

While the EU Commission insists that the pharma company made obligations to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the EU in the first quarter of 2021, the company has replied that the contract only obliges it to make “best efforts” to do so.

Speaking to Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday, von der Leyen said that “there are binding orders and the contract is crystal-clear. AstraZeneca has expressly assured us in this contract that no other obligations will stand in the way of fulfilling the contract.”

The contract states though that the company will make “best reasonable efforts” to ensure that the vaccine is delivered. AstraZeneca have claimed that this wording does not commit them to binding time frames.

'Didn't know what was in contract'

Various German media outlets have attacked von der Leyen in recent days, saying that she is responsible for the vaccine fiasco.

Bild Zeitung claimed that the contract clearly stated that the company only committed to making best efforts to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021.

“She either knowingly told a lie to Europe’s 447 million citizens or she didn't know what was in her own contract,” the tabloid claimed.

Der Spiegel meanwhile claimed that von der Leyen’s ministerial career in Germany provided proof that she finds it hard to take responsibility for her own failures.

Von der Leyen ran the German defence ministry before being called up to the EU Commission in 2019.

But at the time of her promotion there was a parliamentary inquiry into irregular consulting contracts in the defence ministry that were worth hundreds of millions of euros and were handed out under her watch.

The opposition's report into the inquiry accused her of passing the buck to bureaucrats.

“When she announced this week that the pharmaceutical companies bore responsibility for the vaccine disaster, there are those in the defence ministry who likely felt a sense of déjà vu. But will she get away with it this time, too?” asked der Spiegel.

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

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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.