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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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.