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VACCINE

Germany restricts use of AstraZeneca jabs for under-60s

Germany will deploy AstraZeneca's coronavirus jabs for general use only for over-60 year olds, ministers decided Tuesday, placing restrictions for younger people after several severe clotting cases.

Germany restricts use of AstraZeneca jabs for under-60s
Empty viles of the AstraZeneca jab in France. Photo: Fred Tanneau/ AFP

Under-60s can still decide to take the vaccine but only following “consultation with the doctor carrying out the vaccination … and with an individual risk analysis,” said ministers of Germany’s 16 states as well as the federal health minister in a policy statement.

The World Health Organization and the EU’s health watchdog have both deemed the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, but several countries have restricted its use over clotting fears.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca vaccine ‘safe and effective’ against Covid-19, European Medical Agency concludes

Germany’s decision came after the vaccine commission known as STIKO recommended that use of the jabs be halted for under-60s because of “currently available data on the occurrence of rare but very severe thromboembolic side effects” in younger vaccinated people.

It intends to make another recommendation by the end of April on how to proceed with people under 60 who have already received a first dose of the vaccine, it said.

Pending this decision, ministers said people who are due for their second jab can either choose to take it if cleared by their attending doctor, or they can opt to wait for the commission to make its recommendation.

The cities of Berlin and Munich, as well as Brandenburg state had announced earlier that they were suspending the vaccine for younger people.

Germany’s medicines regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), has now reported 31 cases of blood clots in people who have received AstraZeneca, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Tuesday.

Almost all cases are reportedly in younger and middle-aged women, prompting several German hospitals to suspend the use of the jab for women under 55 this week.

On Monday, Canada also recommended halting the use of the jab for under-55s “pending further analysis”.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has had something of a rollercoaster ride.

Britain, which developed it, staunchly supports its use, South Africa has rejected it outright, and more than a dozen EU nations suspended shots in mid-March before most recommenced rollouts, albeit with a patchwork of age restrictions.

France has limited its use to over-55s, while Spain has done the same for under-65s.

Germany’s vaccination campaign has been sluggish, with official figures showing around 11 percent of the population have received a first dose so far.

READ ALSO: Merkel says she ‘would take AstraZeneca vaccine’

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HEALTH

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. 

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