Jabs for children and digital passports: What can we expect from Germany’s vaccine summit?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are meeting Thursday to discuss Germany's vaccine rollout, with a focus on jabs for children as well as digital vaccine certificates.

Jabs for children and digital passports: What can we expect from Germany's vaccine summit?
Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP Pool | Markus Schreiber

What’s happening?

Germany is holding a vaccination summit to discuss the next steps of the inoculation campaign. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of the 16 states are taking part in the discussions which were due to begin at 2pm on Thursday.

What’s the latest on 12-15 year-olds getting the vaccine?

A debate over when children and young people can receive their Covid vaccination has been raging over the last few days across Germany.

The EU Medicines Agency (EMA) is currently reviewing whether to approve the vaccine from BioNTech and Pfizer for young people aged 12-15. The decision is expected on Friday.

This jab has so far been approved for people aged 16 and over in the EU. US regulators earlier this month authorised the vaccine for children in this age group.

Pending the decision, the German government wants to make sure everyone aged 12-15 is offered a jab by the end of August.

This is to ensure that schools can get back to some kind of normality after the summer vacations.

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

But there indications that the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) might not issue a general vaccination recommendation for all children.

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.

The head of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, agreed with STIKO’s stance. He told the Handelsblatt: “It would be perfectly understandable if the STIKO did not issue a vaccination recommendation. The studies on the risk of infection in children are very thin so far.”

The head of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt also said there is a need for clarification. “The data situation on the risks and benefits of a possible coronavirus vaccination in children and adolescents is currently still so insufficient that no recommendation can be made,” he said.

He acknowledged that it would be helpful to offer jabs to to as many children as possible before the start of the next school year, adding: “But we have always advocated a vaccination strategy that puts scientific diligence before speed.”

But SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach expressed criticism of STIKO considerations to recommend the BioNTech vaccine only for young people with pre-existing conditions after its expected approval by the EMA.

He told Spiegel that he would find it “disappointing” if STIKO did not make a general recommendation to vaccinate children, thus shifting the responsibility to parents and doctors.

Health Minister Jens Spahn says the aim is to still to offer all 12-15-year-olds at least one jab by the end of August.

During the vaccination summit, Merkel and state leaders will also discuss the concrete logistics behind vaccinations for this age group – for example – whether they will take place via schools or doctors’ practices.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder tweeted from the vaccine summit. He said: “We need more vaccine doses so that we can offer vaccinations to everyone aged 12 and over – as soon as it is approved.”

German authorities have stressed that vaccines for children will not be mandatory.

Digital vaccine certificates

In future, Germany’s digital vaccination certificate, also called “CovPass”, is to be produced directly in practices or vaccination centres and can then be used via a smartphone.

It will also be possible to issue the certificate at a later date – at doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies. The aim is to start this initiative in the second half of 2021 – so around late June.

At the moment there are still lots of unanswered questions on how this will work so this is a topic on the agenda.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s new digital vaccination pass and when can I get it?

How can Germany speed up vaccine campaign?

Around 41.5 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose so far and 15.7 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

A huge amount of shots – 1.13 million – were delivered into arms of people across Germany on Wednesday.

The vaccination campaign in Germany reached its previous peak on May 12th, with 1.4 million shots administered in one day.

But there are still plans to discuss how Germany can speed up the rollout, looking at supplies, organisation and locations for vaccinations.

“When booster vaccinations become necessary, speed counts. The vaccination campaign must be prepared for such scenarios now,” emphasised Berlin’s Mayor Michael Müller (Social Democrats).

For steps like these, “the course must be set” within the framework of the vaccination summit.

Experts have also said vaccinating is the key to getting ahead of variants, such as the Indian variant which Germany is monitoring at the moment.

READ ALSO: How many people have been vaccinated so far in Germany?

Germany is set to drop its strict priority list and open up vaccines to everyone over the age of 16 from June 7th.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.