Covid jabs for children in Germany will be an ‘individual decision’, says Health Minister

Health Minister Jens Spahn says parents will have to decide with doctors on whether to vaccinate children, as a debate on jabs for youngsters in Germany heats up.

Covid jabs for children in Germany will be an 'individual decision', says Health Minister
A young person taking a Covid test in school in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marius Becker

“In the end, it is about a well-balanced decision by children, parents, doctors,” Spahn said before the vaccination summit of the federal and state governments in Berlin on Thursday.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will deal with the question of the approval of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for children over the age of 12 on Friday.

In April, Germany vaccine manufacturer BioNTech said it hopes for 12-15 year olds to receive its vaccine starting in June, pointing out that it’s safe for this age group. 

US regulators earlier this month authorised the vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.

However, members of Germany’s vaccination committee, known as STIKO, which advise the government on which groups of the population should get vaccinated and when, has been hesitant so far on the issue of allowing young people to get the jab.

STIKO member Rüdger von Kries told broadcaster RBB that not enough is known about the potential side effects of vaccines against Covid-19 in children.

“If the risk is unclear, I cannot foresee at the moment that there will be a recommendation for widespread vaccinations,” he said.

READ ALSO: State by State: What are Germany’s current priority groups?

But Spahn said regardless of the STIKO recommendation, those who want the jab will be able to get it after the EMA approval.

“The moment the vaccine is approved for the over 12-year-olds, it can be administered in doctors’ surgeries from the next day,” Spahn said.

“Paediatricians, doctors can use it within the framework of the approval and within the framework of availability,” he said. Ideally, minors with pre-existing conditions would be vaccinated first, he added.

Spahn said it was about allowing parents, children and the vaccinating doctors to “make an individual decision”.

He said the criteria will include thinking about: “What are pre-existing conditions, what is the personal situation, the family situation, what are the benefits, what are the risks of a Covid-19 infection, which of course also vary across age groups?”

However, Spahn was keen to insist that vaccines were not mandatory.

“We will definitely not have compulsory vaccinations, not even at schools or kindergartens,” he said.

READ ALSO: Vaccines for young people in Germany ‘possible’ by end of summer

Spahn said STIKO’s recommendations were important but not mandatory.

By way of example, he said, “I have also received flu vaccinations, although the recommendation was first for over-60s.”

German authorities hope that by vaccinating young people, schools will be able to return to the classroom full-time after the summer holidays after many months of major disruption.

German government sets aside vaccines for children

The Health Ministry expects a total of more than six million vaccination doses from the manufacturer BioNTech/Pfizer for young people.

The age group from 12 to 18 – a total of 5.3 million people – should therefore be offered at least one initial dose by the end of August.

The federal government wants to make the required vaccination doses available to the federal states “step by step from the total delivery quantities for June, July and August,” according to the plan.

Coronavirus vaccinations for children is a central topic at the summit discussion between Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the state heads of government, which was due to begin on Thursday afternoon.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s new digital vaccination passport and how do I get it?

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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