GPs in Germany call for vaccines to be given according to health not age

Health should be prioritised over age to determine the order in which vaccinations are given once Germany has sufficient vaccine supplies, Ulrich Weigeldt, head of the German Association of General Practitioners.

GPs in Germany call for vaccines to be given according to health not age
Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

“Prioritisation was and is a good guideline for doctors when only small supplies of vaccines are available,” Weigeldt told the Rheinische Post on Friday.

However, he felt that the focus should be more on an individual’s health status as soon as possible.

“A 69-year-old man with high blood pressure and diabetes should perhaps receive the vaccination sooner than a 72-year-old triathlete,” Weigeldt explained.

Currently, the order of vaccination is determined primarily by age, with the population split into three groups: over-80s, 70-80s and 60-70s.

As shown in the government chart below, group one has first priority and includes the over-80s, people in care homes, staff working in intensive care, emergency departments and emergency services.

Group 1: over-80s. Group 2: 70-80s. Group 3: 60-70s.

Once vaccine supplies exceeded a certain amount, the important thing was to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, said Weigeldt, explaining that this was why GP practices should also receive all the different vaccine types.

He said there was no reason for vaccination centres to be favoured over family doctors’ surgeries, adding that the important thing was that people got vaccinated.

“And we know that this happens more quickly if vaccinations take place where people want to get vaccinated,” Weigeldt added. 

GPs are set to start vaccinations in the week after Easter. By the end of April, family doctors’ surgeries should have more than three million doses of vaccine available each week, according to Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn.

For the first two weeks, Germany plans to use only BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine, followed by AstraZeneca from April 19th and Johnson & Johnson the week after that. 

READ ALSO: Family doctors in Germany are to begin offering Covid-19 jabs as vaccine campaign speeds up

Despite Germany advising against using the AstraZeneca vaccine in the under-60s this week, Spahn said he still expected every adult to be offered a jab by September 21st.

He said the AstraZeneca vaccine could be used more quickly in older age groups.

As of March 31st, just 11.8 percent of the German population had received a first jab, while less than 5 percent had received both doses.

The chart shows the pace of the vaccination rollout in Germany, indicating the number of people vaccinated daily as a rolling seven-day average. Source: Our World in Data

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why has Germany restricted the use of AstraZeneca in under 60s?

Meanwhile, Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association, has called for vaccines reserved for second doses to be freed up for short-term use to help stem a third wave of infections.

According to the supplies promised by the government, there would be sufficient capacity for the second jabs from the end of April, he told the Rheinische Post. 

The number of new infections in Germany remains high.
The rolling seven-day average of daily confirmed new Covid-19 cases, clearly highlighting the current upwards trend. Source: Our World in Data.
In the last 24 hours, 18,129 new cases of Covid-19 were reported to the Robert Koch Institute, as well as 120 deaths following an infection with the virus.

Cases have increased slightly over the last seven days, according to the seven-day-incidence rate. According to RKI data, cases stood at 131 per 100,000 residents on Saturday, compared with 125 a week earlier. 

Case levels are also significantly higher than last month, when the figure briefly fell to below 60.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.