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VACCINE

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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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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