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VACCINATION

Germany expects to offer Covid jabs to all adults ‘from June’

Germany is expecting to open up Covid-19 vaccinations to all adults in June at the latest, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday.

Germany expects to offer Covid jabs to all adults 'from June'
Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Spahn is hoping “that we will be able to lift the prioritisation in June”, he told the Bundesrat upper house of parliament, referring to current lists deciding who gets the jabs first. He added that the move may be possible even earlier.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid vaccine?

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign which kicked off in December, Germany has managed to accelerate its rollout this month.

Some 21.6 percent of the population had received a first dose by Thursday, according to official data.

But Germany has until now been bound by a strict system of priority groups drawn up by the STIKO vaccine commission, mostly defined by age.

Some German states had already this week announced plans to open up the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been on a roller-coaster ride in Europe, to anyone who wants it.

Germany has officially recommended the AstraZeneca jab only for people 60 and older following concerns over several blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency on Thursday reported 29,518 new infections in the past 24 hours — among the highest daily rates since the start of the pandemic.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Where are Covid cases going up (and down) around Germany?

Possible Sputnik vaccine introduction

The news came as the Saxony state premier said Germany was in talks with Russia to buy 30 million doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

“Germany is negotiating 3 x 10 million doses for June, July, August. The prerequisite for this is the swift EMA approval of the vaccine,” Michael Kretschmer who discussed the issue with President Vladimir Putin, wrote on Twitter.

Kretschmer posted the tweet after meeting Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko as part of a visit to Moscow ostensibly focusing on cultural relations with Russia.

As part of the visit, he also discussed joint efforts to fight the virus in a phone call with Putin, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Putin confirmed the readiness of the Russian side to cooperate with German partners to this end, in particular to organise deliveries and joint production of vaccines,” it said.

Germany sparked controversy in early April when it said it had started talks with Russia about purchasing doses of the Sputnik vaccine without waiting for coordinated EU action.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said Europe’s biggest economy was seeking a “binding commitment on which amounts specifically could reach Germany after regulatory approval and when”.

The negotiations come as the two countries are at loggerheads over issues including repeated Russian cyberattacks against the West, the Kremlin’s treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and escalating tensions on the Ukraine border.

Germany has until now coordinated its vaccine buying with the EU.

Since inoculations began in late December, Germany has deployed vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna.

A fourth, from Johnson & Johnson, is expected to be rolled out across the bloc in the coming weeks.

The southern state of Bavaria and the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have already announced plans to pre-order doses of Sputnik. The EMA has launched a rolling review of the Sputnik jab, which could become the first non-Western coronavirus vaccine approved for use across the 27-nation bloc.

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COVID-19

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. 

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