Germany to launch national vaccination plan amid disappointment over shortages

Chancellor Angela Merkel has reassured residents in Germany that they will be offered a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of summer despite delivery delays.

Germany to launch national vaccination plan amid disappointment over shortages
Angela Merkel on Monday night. Photo: DPA

Merkel met with the country's 16 state leaders and pharmaceutical representatives on Monday to discuss how to improve the country's sluggish vaccination programme.

After the meeting, which lasted over five hours, Merkel announced that the federal and state governments were to launch a “national vaccination plan” in a bid to iron out issues.

The plan should better record and manage delivery dates of vaccine doses in order to come up with a schedule on when people in Germany can be offered a vaccination.

It will be developed by the Health Ministry with the federal states by the next planned government Covid-19 strategy meeting scheduled for February 10th.

READ ALSO: How can Germany speed up its vaccination campaign?

The Health Ministry forecasts the delivery of about 320 million doses to Germany by the end of the year, although this is subject to change.

However, Germany will still continue to see vaccine shortages at the moment.

Europe has limited production capacities, and this will be noticeable until the end of March, Merkel, of the CDU, said.

Following the meeting Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said the country should expect “tough weeks of shortages”.

In the second quarter, however, significantly more doses will be available for the population.

Merkel renewed Germany's promise of offering everyone in the country a vaccination by the end of summer.

The “statement that we will be able to offer every citizen a vaccination by the end of the third quarter” can still be maintained, she said.

Spahn issued this promise around a month ago but doubts had arisen because of the vaccine shortage.

Merkel said that despite delays to deliveries of vaccine stocks, the German government had received reassurances that all supplies will be received in each quarter.  

And this applies even if there are no approvals or there are delays to the developing vaccines by Johnson & Johnson and CureVac. If those firms do receive approval, the supply will be boosted.

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

How will Germany ramp up vaccination campaign?

Merkel said there were several reasons for the slower pace in Germany compared to other countries.

She said there was limited production capacity and also referenced the EU's process of negotiating liability issues. Merkel also said the EU had not opted for emergency approval of vaccines. She said this was important so that people could trust in the process.

“That's why the road has been slower in some places, that's true, but I think there are also good reasons why it has been slower,” said Merkel.

Meanwhile, Merkel said coronavirus vaccines could be needed for several years.

“It's similar to the flu vaccine, where you re-vaccinate against the new mutation of the virus every time,” she said.

So far, 18.5 million vaccine doses have been delivered and more than 12 million administered, Merkel said.

Merkel added that the EU is ready to help manufacturers quickly ramp up their production and delivery of vaccine.

The Chancellor also mentioned that vaccination in doctors' surgeries could be possible in Germany.

A Health Ministry paper says vaccinating in surgeries would make sense if “vaccines suitable for transport and storage in medical practices” were available in sufficient quantities for at least three million vaccinations per week.

According to the Federal Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), the approximately 50,000 practices that could be considered for this could carry out more than five million vaccinations per week, the ministry wrote.

On the topic of issues with getting appointments in states, politicians said teething problems should be expected.

According to an analysis by the Health Ministry, there were up to 6.8 million calls to the nationwide vaccination hotline 116 117 between January 1st and January 20th alone.

At the beginning of the allocation of vaccine appointments, there were “massive bottlenecks in the utilisation” of the hotline in some states. In some places, the capacities were “not nearly sufficient to handle the volume of callers”.

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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.