How family doctors will speed up Covid-19 vaccinations across Germany from April

Germany's vaccination campaign is to get a major boost soon thanks to more supplies of Covid-19 vacines and allowing doctors' surgeries to give out jabs.

How family doctors will speed up Covid-19 vaccinations across Germany from April
GP Birgitt Lucas administers a Covid vaccination to a patient as part of a pilot project in Hof (Bavaria). Photo: DPA

The country’s sluggish coronavirus vaccine campaign is to gradually gain momentum with the planned inclusion of doctors’ surgeries from April, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday.

However, it will take time to build up speed. The number of vaccines given out will not “immediately grow to 20 million a month or to 10 million a week”, Spahn told broadcaster ZDF.

He said that vaccinations can be carried out more flexibly in GPs’ practices. “The doctors know their patients and know who should be vaccinated first,” said Spahn. The next step is vaccinations in workplaces by company doctors.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid vaccination in Germany?

On Wednesday, health ministers of the federal and state governments were due to discuss further details and the exact starting date for GP practices to inoculate people.

The ministers also want to clarify how the doses will be distributed among the regional vaccination centres in the states, and the GP practices. The bureaucratic effort for doctors is to be reduced to a minimum, DPA learned from sources.

Up to now, vaccinations have been carried out mainly in vaccination centres and with mobile vaccination teams that travel to nursing homes, for example. In some states there have been successful pilot projects for jabs in doctors’ practices.

How many people have been vaccinated against coronavirus?

While the UK, USA and Israel have forged ahead with their vaccination programmes, Germany and other EU countries have been slowed down by supply shortages and limits set on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccination. That’s been compounded by reservations about the AstraZeneca jab.

READ MORE: Why have tens of thousands of Germany’s AstraZeneca vaccines not been used?

So far, about three percent of people in Germany have been fully vaccinated with both doses, and 6.7 percent have received a first dose. About 8.1 million doses have been administered since the inoculation programme started shortly before the start of 2021.

Screenshot: Our World in Data

Due to low supplies of vaccine doses, there is a priority order to who gets the jab first. The highest priority is given to the elderly, health workers at high risk of infection and people with underlying diseases.

Spahn said: “I have a very high level of trust in doctors that they will vaccinate those patients first who are also most at risk.” Prioritisation would generally continue to be necessary, he said, adding: “Saving lives is not bureaucracy.”

Could people be vaccinated earlier?

The head of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, believes it’s possible to vaccinate 20 million people per month in Germany from April – and bring forward the deadline for offering all adults a vaccine by September 21st.

A first dose for all adults could be offered by the first half of June, and full immunisation by the beginning of August, Gassen told Welt.

The prerequisite for this is a rapid supply of vaccines. With five million doses administered per week in the practices and about 1.5 million vaccinations in centres, “a much earlier date than September 21st” is achievable, he said.

What’s the plan for coronavirus hotspots?

The EU is to receive an extra four million BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses over the next two weeks to be deployed to Covid-19 “hotspots”, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

The additional package has been negotiated so that EU states can vaccinate in problem regions and slow down more contagious virus variants.

Germany could receive around 18.6 per cent of the additional quota – 740,000 doses.

After the EU announcement, Bavarian leader Markus Söder announced that Bavarian Covid hotspots on the border with the Czech Republic would receive an additional 100,000 doses of vaccine.

Altogether there will be an additional 150,000 doses for the border regions particularly affected by the British variant of the virus.

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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.