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HEALTH

What’s the vaccine situation in Germany’s two most populous states?

The process of getting a Covid vaccination differs across Germany. We spoke to Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia's health offices to find out how they're getting on.

What's the vaccine situation in Germany's two most populous states?
Over 60s being vaccinated with AstraZeneca in Cologne over the Easter weekend. Photo: DPA

What’s the profile of these states?

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), with around 17.95 million residents, is Germany’s most populous. It is home to large cities including Cologne and Düsseldorf, which is the state capital, as well as the large industrial Ruhr region.

The southern state of Bavaria has around 13.12 million people. Bavaria’s main cities are Munich (its capital and largest city which is also the third largest city in Germany), Nuremberg, and Augsburg. The state is particularly known for its auto industry and culture.

Germany in total has around 83.2 million residents.

How many people have been vaccinated in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia?

As of April 12th, around 5.8 percent of people had been fully vaccinated in NRW, and 16.1 percent had received one dose.

In Bavaria, 6.5 percent had received both doses and 16 percent have had one shot.

Overall nearly 16 percent of people in Germany have received one dose of a Covid vaccine, and just over 6 percent are fully vaccinated.

The map by German government vaccination dashboard shows the percentage of first doses in states.

Can residents choose which vaccine they get?

Last week, we wrote about how people in Berlin receiving letters being invited for a vaccine are able to choose which vaccine they get. We contacted the Berlin health office for more information but they didn’t respond.

READ ALSO: ‘I finally might be able to go home’: What it’s like to be offered a Covid jab in Germany

We asked if this was the case in Bavaria and NRW, and if it was a federal or state decision. Here’s what they said.

“The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is responsible for vaccinations in the 53 vaccination centres of the districts and independent cities of North Rhine-Westphalia,” said a spokeswoman for the health office in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Due to the still limited availability of vaccine, citizens are basically not free to choose which vaccine they are supplied with in the 53 vaccination centres.”

The NRW spokeswoman pointed out that the federal government is responsible for the rollout in doctor’s practices, rather than the state so the process could differ there.

Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca vaccine will no longer be administered in the vaccination centres in NRW in future, and will instead just be used by family doctors.  However, those over the age of 60 who have already received a first dose with AstraZeneca at the centres will receive their second injection with it.

A spokeswoman for the health office in Bavaria said: “Currently, citizens in Bavaria cannot choose the vaccine yet. As soon as vaccine is available in sufficient quantities, residents should be able to choose. This is done nationwide.”

READ ALSO: Germany to continue restricting use of AstraZeneca in under 60s despite EMA ruling

A police officer being vaccinated in Munich in March. Photo: DPA

Which priority group is being vaccinated in NRW?

NRW has completed the highest priority group (that includes people over the age of 80 and health care workers at risk of getting Covid) and have now started on the second priority group, which includes the age group of 70 to 79-year-olds.

“The 70- to 79-year-old age group in North Rhine-Westphalia consists of about 1.6 million people and their partners,” said the spokeswoman.

“In order to ensure a smooth allocation of appointments, the invitations for the vaccination offers will be made on a year-by-year basis and the booking options of the group will also be activated on a year-by-year basis.

“In addition to this age group, the priority two occupational groups are entitled to vaccinations; these are, for example, staff in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, employees in day-care centres or teachers at primary or special schools. In addition, people with pre-existing conditions are entitled to vaccinations.”

Which priority group is being vaccinated in Bavaria?

In Bavaria it depends on the local area.

“The question of which priority group is getting vaccinated depends regionally on the scope of the respective priority groups, which can vary,” said the Bavaria health spokeswoman. “Overall, primarily the second priority group is currently being vaccinated.

“Depending on the availability of vaccine, the third priority group is also being vaccinated. This may be particularly the case if all people over 70 in the respective district have already received a vaccination and doses are available from AstraZeneca.”

READ ALSO: How do I prove I belong to one of Germany’s priority groups?

Are people invited for a vaccination in NRW or do they book it themselves?

To help people understand the appointment system, NRW said people who are due for a jab will receive a letter explaining the procedure from the state health minister Karl-Josef Laumann.

“The citizens book the vaccination appointment themselves,” said the spokeswoman. “Initially, appointments can only be booked for those born after 1941 via the appointment booking systems of the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians.

“Appointments can be booked online via www.116117.de and by phone via the central number: 116 117 or the additional number for each part of the state (0800) 116 117 02 for Westphalia-Lippe and (0800) 116 117 01 for the Rhineland).

Bookings for couples is also possible, said NRW.

“The age of the respective partner is irrelevant. The first vaccinations in the vaccination centres are possible for this group of people from April 8th 2021. Appointment bookings for 80-year-olds and older will continue to be possible in parallel.”

If you have any questions in general wherever you live in Germany, you can contact the health department or your own health insurance organisation or doctor for more information.

What’s the procedure in Bavaria?

If you want to be vaccinated in Bavaria, you can register for an appointment.

There are currently three ways to arrange a vaccination appointment according to the health office:

  • Online registration at www.impfzentren.bayern. Those wishing to be inoculated against Covid can register with the online registration system. They can then enter the data they need for prioritisation, such as age and occupational group. Depending on your personal situation and the availability of vaccination appointments, you will be invited by a vaccination centre to book a personal appointment via SMS and email. The allocation of vaccination appointments is based on belonging to the priority group. “This ensures that the most vulnerable people are always vaccinated first,” said the spokeswoman
  • The individual appointment can be made by telephone via the vaccination centre responsible for the district
  • Or you can call the central hotline number 116 117. The hotline connects those willing to be vaccinated directly to the vaccination centre responsible for them. The federal hotline is currently available from 8:00am to 10pm seven days a week
  • When registering by phone, the data necessary for prioritisation is requested on the call. So if you belong to a priority group be ready to prove it

Do you feel the vaccination rollout in NRW is going well?

“From the point of view of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs, the vaccination campaign is going well overall,” said said a NRW spokeswoman.

“Our primary interest is that as many citizens as possible are vaccinated against the virus as quickly as possible.”

After realising they had around 450,000 leftover AstraZeneca doses after Germany restricted the use of it in under 60s, NRW recently launched a campaign to use the doses, calling up over 60s at short notice to get vaccinated.

The spokeswoman said this was another example of NRW’s accelerating the campaign.

Do you feel that the vaccination programme in Bavaria is going well?

A health ministry spokeswoman in Bavaria said the state is “working every day to solve the challenges of the vaccination requirements and to improve the vaccination strategy”.

“Considering the major logistical challenges and the still prevailing shortage of vaccine, a lot has already been achieved,” she added.

“With the involvement of the medical practices as the second pillar of the strategy, and due to the expected deliveries from the federal government, we are confident that we will get more speed into vaccination very soon.

“An improvement in the supply of vaccine doses will also open up more possibilities – company doctors will then also be able to vaccinate the workforces of companies quickly.”

Member comments

  1. This information about the vaccine roll out is very helpful.
    Thank you for putting all this together.

  2. Agrred on the above comment, thank you for this. I live in the NRW close to Dortmund & some of the info they post is actually wrong – for example, their German info sheet says over-60’s can now get an appointment (Incorrect) & then the link takes you to the Nordrhein/Rheinland appointment site, whereas Dortmund is in Westfalen-Lippe. You discover this quickly if you try & put a Dortmund Zip code in 🙂
    And, again, this is from Stadt Dortmund! (Face-palm)

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HEALTH

What you should know about Germany’s plans to roll out e-prescriptions

Germany is taking a big step towards a more digital-friendly health system, with plans to roll out e-prescriptions nationwide. Here's what you should know.

A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.
A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

What’s happening?

From January 1st 2022, people in Germany will receive their prescriptions digitally (known in Germany as an ‘e-Rezept’) from healthcare providers.

Patients should be able to get their prescription from their doctor via a QR code sent to an app, which can then be transmitted to a pharmacy. The pharmacy can then let the patient know whether their medicine is in stock (or if they want to order it), and when it is ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance from the start of 2022, replacing the good old paper prescription.

However, the QR code can also be given to the patient by the doctor on a piece of paper if a patient does not have access to or doesn’t want to use a smartphone. 

READ ALSO: The changes around doctors notes in Germany you should know 

How exactly will it work?

In theory this is the plan – you’ll visit the doctor or have a video consultation. After the examination, the doctor will issue you with an electronic prescription for the medication that has been prescribed to you. 

A prescription code is automatically created for each ‘e-Rezept’, which you will need so you can get the medicine at the pharmacy. As we mentioned above, patients in Germany can either open this QR code in the free e-prescription app developed by Gematik and the Health Ministry, or receive it as a printout from the doctor. 

Next, you can take the prescription QR code (either in the app or as a printout) to your pharmacy of choice to get the medication needed.

One of the major differences and timesavers under the new system is that you can also select the pharmacy you want to get the prescription from digitally, order the medication (if needed) and you’ll be alerted when the prescription is ready. You can also arrange to have it delivered if needed. 

A doctor’s signature is not required, as e-prescriptions are digitally signed. 

The aim is that it will save on paperwork, time at the medical office and trips to the pharmacy. 

Some patients have already been receiving digital prescriptions. The ‘e-Rezept’ was tested out successfully in selected practices and pharmacies with a focus on the Berlin-Brandenburg region of Germany. The test phase started on July 1st this year.

Pharmacies and doctors’ offices nationwide have also been given the opportunity to test the new system from the start of December. 

“This will enable practice providers and pharmacy management systems to better prepare for the mandatory launch on January 2022 1st,” said aponet.de, the official health portal site for German pharmacies

The new e-prescription app.
The new e-prescription app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

READ ALSO: 10 rules to know if you get sick in Germany

There is some leeway though – if there are technical difficulties, paper prescriptions can still be issued in individual cases until the end of June next year.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians estimates that it could take until mid-2022 until all users are equipped with e-prescription applications nationwide.

The obligation does not apply to privately insured people from January next year. Private insurance companies can decide voluntarily to make the preparations for their customers to use the e-prescription.

What’s this about an app?

To be able to receive and redeem prescriptions electronically, people with statutory health insurance need the Gematik ‘das e-Rezept’ app. 

One issue is that the app appears to only be available at the moment in German app stores. We’ll try and find out if there are plans to change this and widen out the access, but it seems likely for that to happen. 

Germany’s Covid-Warn app, for example, was initially only open to German app stores but was gradually widened out to many others. 

As mentioned above though, those who don’t have access to an app will be able to use the paper with the code on it to access their prescriptions. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

Has it all gone smoothly?

As you might expect, there have been a few hiccups. 

Originally, the introduction nationwide was planned for October but was postponed due to many providers not having all the tech requirements set up. 

Now though, more than 90 percent of the practice management systems have been certified by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – a prerequisite to issue the e-prescriptions.

The e-prescription is part of Germany’s far-reaching plans to digitise and streamline the health care system.

The head of Gematik GmbH, Markus Leyck Dieken, recently spoke of a “new era” that is “finally starting for doctors and patients” in Germany. 

Useful vocabulary:

Prescription – (das) Rezept

Doctor’s office/practice – (die) Arztpraxis

To order – bestellen 

Pharmacy – (die) Apotheke

Video consultation – (die) Videosprechstunde

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