Vaccine effect: Covid-19 hospital admission rate falls in Germany

As Germany's elderly population is inoculated against Covid-19, the rate of hospital admissions is falling, new figures show. But younger age groups are still seriously affected.

Vaccine effect: Covid-19 hospital admission rate falls in Germany
A prison officer being vaccinated in Saxony-Anhalt on April 27th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

According to data from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the proportion of hospital admissions for patients with Covid-19 has not increased since the end of February.

It has remained at seven to eight percent of the reported number of people with Covid-19 – and has even fallen to a current low of four percent.

Upon request, the RKI said it can’t be ruled out that subsequent reports may push this percentage up slightly. However, it’s clear that the situation is improving compared to previous waves.

By way of comparison: at the peak of the first wave, the proportion of hospital admissions was up to 20 percent of the number of people with Covid-19 reported at that time, and up to 12 percent at the height of the second wave in December.

According to health experts, this proportion went down in winter due to lessons learned from spring 2020, and the progress in helping people avoid severe courses of the disease.

Elderly Covid cases significantly down due to vaccination

Coronavirus infections in the over-80s have declined considerably compared to the second wave, the RKI says.

The weekly incidences among 80 to 90-year-olds were between 60 and 74 per 100,000 inhabitants – significantly lower than in all other age groups.

On Thursday, for example, the proportion of the 80 plus age group in new Covid cases was just 2.5 percent.

This can only be explained by the effect of vaccination in this age group, the RKI said. Since this group used to account for the majority of hospital coronavirus cases, the current much lower overall hospitalisation rate can also be attributed to the vaccine effect.

It comes after Germany scored a major achievement this week after giving out more than a million Covid-19 jabs on Wednesday – a European first.

READ ALSO: Germany breaks European record by giving a million Covid jabs in one day

In all, 21.6 million people or 25.9 percent of the population in Germany have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The proportion of people who are dying is also going down. About 2.45 percent of those infected have died so far. That is the lowest value since January 25th. The reason for the downward trend is probably the falling proportion of the very old among the cases.

Younger age groups receiving hospital treatment

In the younger age groups (35 to 59 year-olds), however, at least as many patients were hospitalised in the third wave as in the second.

And they have usually had to stay in hospitals longer than before, especially if they were treated in intensive care units.

According to the register of intensive care physicians and the RKI, about 5,000 people are still in intensive care, and more than half (58 percent) are receiving ventilation.

Intensive care doctors say their patients are becoming “younger and younger” compared to previous waves – and warn that they are still facing major pressure.

READ ALSO: ‘Third wave is clearly upon us’: German ICU wards struggle as younger people fill beds

Germany on Friday reported 24,329 Covid cases within 24 hours and 306 deaths. The number of cases per 100,000 residents in seven days fell to 153.4 , down from 154.9 on Thursday. This could be the first signs of a downward trend.

On Wednesday the RKI said the 7-day incidence was 160.6; and a week earlier it was 161.1.

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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.