Four German states offer AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults

A handful of German states are lifting the strict priority list for receiving the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, meaning that every adult will be eligible on the condition they have a consultation with a doctor.

Four German states offer AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults
A patient getting a Covid vaccine in Dresden, Saxony. Photo: DPA

Berlin, Bavaria, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, have announced that they are releasing the vaccine to all age groups over 18, reported broadcaster ZDF.

Germany officially recommends that the vaccine is given out only to over 60s due to blood clotting concerns. However, if a patient has a detailed consultation with a doctor and discusses the risks, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered to those not over the age of 60.

The Bundesrepublik is also currently bound by a strict system of priority groups drawn up by the STIKO vaccine commission, which is mostly defined by age.

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

But state health authorities said they were releasing the vaccine to those who were interested so that fewer doses would go to waste.

The release of AstraZeneca in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is “an offer that those who have no or few reservations about the vaccine can take advantage of”, said Health Minister Harry Glawe (CDU).

Saxony took a similar route. The state said many people who are eligible for a vaccine are waiting for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine even though they could have the AstraZeneca one now.

Bavaria is also following. “Astrazeneca’s prioritisation has been lifted with immediate effect, and the vaccine can be offered in doctors’ surgeries to people under 60,” said state health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) on Wednesday.

Berlin announced on Thursday it was to follow the lead of other states.

“In the current wave of infections, it is important to immunise as many people as possible as soon as possible – including with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires a lot of education,” said Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci (SPD). 

Since the start of April, AstraZeneca has only been administered in Berlin by GPs and in specialist practices, rather than vaccination centres.

The health ministries of Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia told Reuters news agency that they were not planning any changes.

The federal Health Ministry reacted cautiously to the announcement by the states. “There is a recommendation by STIKO, on the basis of which we have formulated a vaccination regulation,” said a spokesman for the ministry.

The move by some federal states to ignore the priority list comes as the government passed amendments to the law to give the government more power to implement nationwide Covid measures.

Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday, federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said he expected every adult to be offered a Covid jab by June at the latest.

Spahn said he is hoping “that we will be able to lift the prioritisation in June”. He added that it might happen earlier.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.