Germany to make vaccines available at GP practices: What you need to know

Germany's general practitioners are expected to start coronavirus vaccinations nationwide after Easter - but with initially only around 20 appointments per week.

Germany to make vaccines available at GP practices: What you need to know
Vaccine jabs at a doctor's office in Senftenberg, Brandenburg, which were already delivered in March ahead of the April roll-out across Germany. Photo: DPA

That’s according to a draft resolution from the Chancellor’s Office, which the federal and state governments discussed at their vaccination summit on Friday.

“With the quantities we expect in the first weeks of April, (…) it will be possible to start with about the equivalent of one vaccination consultation hour per week in GP practices,” said Health Minister Jens Spahn of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in Berlin on Friday.

READ ALSO: Here’s the German vocabulary you need to get the Covid-19 vaccine

Step by step, there will be more vaccinations, he said. Last week, before the interruption of vaccinations with manufacturer AstraZeneca, Germany’s 16 states injected almost 1.8 million vaccine jabs. 

In the week after Easter, almost 3.3 million doses are to be delivered throughout the country. According to the draft, doctors in private practice are to administer about one million doses. 

With 50,000 practices participating, that would be 20 doses per week.

There is to be a boost three weeks later: In the last week of April, 5.4 million doses are to be delivered, 3.2 million of which are to be administered in the practices. 

Then, for the first time, more doses could be administered at practices than at the vaccination centres.

For the centres, 2.25 million doses per week are to be reserved, according to the Chancellery draft. In some states, vaccinations are already possible in selected medical practices, for example those treating cancer patients. 

How will hot spot border areas benefit?

According to the plans, 270,000 BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine doses from a 580,000-dose supplementary delivery will be used to ensure a minimum of one million vaccine doses for doctors’ offices in the weeks after Easter. 

The remaining 310,000 vaccine doses would then be earmarked for use in particularly affected border areas. Specifically, the paper names Saarland because of its proximity to the French department of Moselle, and Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia because of the critical situation on the border with the Czech Republic. 

The draft does not yet specify how many vaccine doses are to go to which state.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Germany?

What will the role of AstraZeneca be?

The new vaccination plan was made possible, in part, through a decision of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) the day before. After a new review, the EMA reaffirmed its assessment that the vaccine from the British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca should continue to be administered. 

Spahn temporarily suspended vaccinations with the AstraZeneca  vaccine on Monday after several cases of blood clots in veins were reported following the jab.

Vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

“The benefits of vaccination outweigh the currently known risks,” Germany’s Standing Commission on Vaccination ruled. 

Since Friday, the jab has been available for use again in Germany. However, an extra warning about the possible rare blood clots should be added.

READ ALSO: Germany to use AstraZeneca vaccine from Friday

Who will receive priority?

According to the draft, the doctors should first invite particularly vulnerable patients to get their jabs. 

Spahn urged the states to protect people with pre-existing conditions and high risks of severe or fatal Covid-19 courses first. 

Social Democratic (SPD) health politician Karl Lauterbach said: “The risk of dying from Covid in the case of an infection is 600 times higher for an 80-year-old than for a 30-year-old. That’s why I’m very critical of proposals to change the vaccination sequence.” 

The fact that teachers, for example, are given priority vaccinations in some areas, as is the case in North Rhine-Westphalia, has provoked criticism for days. 

Disability advocates called for people with an increased risk of a severe to fatal course of the disease to be vaccinated first.

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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.