‘Millions could be vaccinated quickly’: Should Germany grant wider rollout of AstraZeneca?

Communication issues and and reports that AstraZeneca is less effective than other available Covid-19 vaccines have resulted in people in Germany refusing it. What should happen to the leftover doses?

'Millions could be vaccinated quickly': Should Germany grant wider rollout of AstraZeneca?
The AstraZeneca at a Berlin vaccination centre. Photo: DPA

Why are people in Germany refusing an AstraZeneca jab?

The world spent months waiting in desperation for a coronavirus vaccine. Now, thanks to the fast work of scientists, there are a selection available – but one of the vaccines is proving to be a sticking point in Germany.

Despite overall shortages of vaccines in the EU, German healthcare facilities have reported several hundred thousand AstraZeneca vials sitting unused, as well as no-shows at scheduled appointments.

That's likely down to a few reasons. One is that 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.

However, misleading coverage on the efficacy among above-65s, and a lack of clear communication on the vaccine has led to more people having reservations about it.

Last month Germany's vaccine commission STIKO said it was recommending the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine only for those between the ages of 18 and 64, due to insufficient data on its effectiveness on older people.


So why aren't vaccine doses being used?

It's simple on paper: if a person doesn't want a jab it should be rolled out to the next priority person.

However, due to what appears to be a lack of leadership on moving away from strict rules, health officials remain focused on the highest priority group which includes over 80s and health care employees with a high risk of contracting Covid-19.

Now calls are growing for AstraZeneca vaccine to be given out to more groups in the population.

“We should release the AstraZeneca vaccine for the first three priority groups,” Social Democrat health expert Karl Lauterbach told Spiegel on Monday.

“Then millions of under-65s could get vaccinated quickly, including police officers, teachers and educators.” Currently, he said, many vaccination centres only vaccinate five days a week for eight hours at a time.

“With the release (of the vaccine) for the first three groups, we could increase the utilisation to seven days a week.”

Lauterbach made similar comments to Bild am Sonntag. However, the SPD politician advised against releasing the AstraZeneca vaccine to everyone, as there are groups of the population that need protection more than others.

“Then partygoers could be vaccinated earlier than young doctors,” he said. “We have to avoid that.”

OPINION: How the Covid-19 vaccine fiasco exposes myth of Germany efficiency

'We should vaccinate teachers quickly'

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted on Monday to say the AstraZeneca vaccine is “safe and highly effective”.

“It prevents many infections and protects against serious illness,” he said. “Vaccination can save lives.”

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder also expressed concern about the reservations over AstraZeneca.

He said, “I am clearly not in favour of leaving vaccines lying around under any circumstances.”

Söder added that it must be made clear that the vaccine is effective. He said Germany could not justify having unused vaccine doses that could “significantly improve the situation”.

Free Democrats parliamentary party leader Marco Buschmann spoke out in favour of immunising teachers and daycare centre staff, in particular with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We should vaccinate teachers and educators quickly,” Buschmann told Spiegel, especially as schools are gradually opening this week.

“The opportunity is there because there is currently comparatively lots of vaccine available from AstraZeneca,” he said.

“People with disabilities as well as teachers and educators must be given higher vaccination priority,” said FDP parliamentary group vice-chairman Michael Theurer.

“It can't be that hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses lie around unused because the state can't get the organisation of the vaccination campaign organised.”

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

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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.