Germany serves up Covid jabs in the company canteen

It's well before midday but chemical technician trainer Ralf Scharf is already heading to the company canteen. And lunch is the last thing on his mind.

Germany serves up Covid jabs in the company canteen
An employee holds her vaccination booclet and the company's forms while she waits to receive the Pfizer Biontech vaccine at the vaccination centre of German speciality chemicals company Evonik in Hanau, western Germany, on May 19th, 2021. THOMAS LOHNES / AFP

He’s here to get a Covid-19 jab, as his German employer Evonik Industries joins a push to ramp up the country’s immunisation drive by including company doctors in the effort.

“You can get vaccinated without hardly any waiting time, it’s great,” Scharf, 58, told AFP after making the short walk from his work station to the dining area.

The usual tables have been removed to make way for rows of small booths manned by medical staff.

Each section is dedicated to a different step in the process, from signing consent forms and getting a pre-jab consultation to the actual injection and recovery room.

Hungry workers can still grab food-to-go in an adjacent room.

The makeshift vaccination centre at chemicals group Evonik’s Hanau site, near Frankfurt, is one of several such pilot projects in Germany. Rail
operator Deutsche Bahn, carmaker Volkswagen and chemicals giant BASF have launched similar schemes.

The official starting shot for company doctors nationwide to join the coronavirus jabs campaign will come on June 7.

Demand is expected to outstrip supply, at least at first, until larger vaccine shipments gradually find their way into Germany’s mass vaccination centres, doctor’s practices and participating companies.

After a much-criticised slow start, Germany has significantly picked up the inoculation pace in recent weeks.

Some 40 percent of adults have now had their first shot and more than 13 percent have had both jabs.

READ ALSO: Couple in southern Germany accused of forging Covid vaccination certificates
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‘Light on horizon’
At Evonik, company doctor Christine Busch only has a few hundred doses to administer during the pilot phase.

But once the project kicks into high gear next month, she expects to vaccinate around a thousand people a week.

Initially the focus will be on Evonik’s roughly 3,500 Hanau-based staff and the employees of partner companies. There are also plans to eventually extend the offer to employees’ family members.

All the jabs in the pilot scheme are Pfizer/BioNTech shots, for which Evonik happens to produce the tiny bubbles of fat known as lipid nanoparticles that protect the vaccine’s crucial mRNA molecules.

As long as vaccine supply is still tight, her firm is prioritising staffers who have to be on site and can’t work from home.

“We’ve all been living with this pandemic for over a year,” Busch said.

“Now for the first time we can see light on the horizon and actively play a part in beating this thing. That’s pretty special.”

And according to Hanau site manager Kerstin Oberhaus, there’s no shortage of appetite for the jabs.

 “As soon as I get out of my car in the morning, people come up to me asking when it’ll be their turn,” she said. “The eagerness to get vaccinated is huge.”

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now