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VACCINE

Top virologist backs mass rollout of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Germany

Christian Drosten says the AstraZeneca vaccine could be used to "achieve a breakthrough in pandemic protection" for Germany.

Top virologist backs mass rollout of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Germany
Virologist Christian Drosten. Photo: DPA

The high profile Charité hospital scientist, who has advised the German government throughout the crisis, said he considered reservations about rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine to be unfounded, and is in favour of its widespread use.

“We have to do everything we can now to vaccinate as quickly as possible across the board,” said Drosten in his Coronavirus Update podcast on Tuesday.

Drosten gave his stamp of approval to all the available Covid- 19 vaccines in Germany, but added: “There's always a hair in the soup somewhere, and some people are looking at it with a magnifying glass.”

Germany and the EU has come under fire for its slow start to the vaccination campaign. This has been blamed on the purchasing strategy of the EU, as well as logistic and booking hurdles for vaccine appointments in German states.

Drosten highlighted the easier storage conditions of the AstraZeneca vaccine – it doesn't need to be stored in very cold temperatures unlike BioNTech/Pfizer.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Jens Spahn stressed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “safe and effective” and told TV station RTL that he would have no hesitations about being vaccinated with it.

READ ALSO: How Germany can increase its supply of vaccines

Why are there concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine?

The AstraZeneca jab has been hailed by health experts including the WHO because it is cheaper and easier to distribute than some other manufacturers.

But the vaccine from the Swedish-British AstraZeneca/Oxford team, has a slightly lower efficacy than the two other vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna which are also approved in Germany.

There was also some controversy over whether the vaccine was effective enough for over 65s. Last month Germany's vaccine commission STIKO said it was recommending the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine only for those under the age of 65, due to insufficient data on its effectiveness on older people.

Drosten said he believes the vaccine has been misunderstood in the public debate.

It recently emerged that the AstraZeneca vaccine is likely less protective against mild and moderate courses of Covid-19 in a variant first discovered in South Africa. Drosten, however, said there were some limitations in this research.

But Drosten said a study has shown the AstraZeneca vaccine works well against the variant from Britain (B.1.1.7), which is more prevalent in Germany.

Photo: DPA

In connection with the lower efficacy, there have been reports about a lower willingness to be vaccinated with the jab in Germany.

Monika Bachmann, the health minister of Saarland, said at the weekend more than half of of 200 people registered for a special vaccination for medical staff cancelled their appointment.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, also spoke out against the AstraZeneca vaccination among medical employees because of the lower effectiveness – the problems could not be “explained away”, he told the Rheinische Post.

However, Drosten said the important thing was for as many people as possible to be vaccinated.

“This (AstraZeneca vaccine) can be used to achieve a breakthrough in pandemic protection for the population,” he said.

READ ALSO: Germany aims to offer priority groups and all over-60s first vaccine by end of June

It has led to some people asking if people will be able to choose which vaccine they receive.

But chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, Eugen Brysch, told the Rheinische Post that there can be no choices while vaccine doses are so scarce.

“All vaccines have gone through a regular approval procedure and are highly effective,” he said.

For the next few months it remains likely that there will not be enough vaccine doses available in Germany, he added. “That's why we have to prioritise. As long as that is the case, there can be no choice.”

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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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