Fact check: Is Germany facing an imminent Covid vaccine shortage?
With reports of contaminated batches of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, plus lower-than-expected delivery forecasts of Biontech, could Germany really be facing Covid vaccine shortages in the near future? We take a closer look.
A headline on Spiegel Online on Wednesday warned that "Germany faces massive slowdown in vaccination campaign." It came on the tail of an article in the same outlet which claimed that delivery hold-ups from the US could have "grave consequences" for Germany's vaccine roll out.
The reports are likely to lead to concern that Germany will fail to reach herd immunity through vaccination before the autumn when the rate of infection with the coronavirus is likely to rise again.
So, how worried should we be?
What is the issue?
The first issue is that several million doses that Germany had ordered from the US pharma firm Johnson & Johnson are at risk of not arriving due to major issues at a production facility in the US.
A suspected contamination at a factory in Baltimore led to 60 million doses being declared unusable by the US drug authorities. A substantial portion of these doses was headed for Germany, which expected to receive 10 million J&J doses by the end of June, but has so far only received around 1.25 million.
This hole in the order book is particularly serious because the J&J shot only needs to be given once. In other words 10 million J&J doses would need to be replaced with 20 million from a rival producer.
The second issue that Spiegel Online has brought up is that BionTech/Pfizer, the supplier that has provided 70 percent of Germany's vaccines so far, is reducing its deliveries in July.
New figures published by the Health Ministry show weekly deliveries of 5.5 million doses of the Pfizer jab in the last week of June dropping to 3.2 million in the first week of July.
Particularly eye-catching in the Health Ministry's new delivery forecast is the fact that no numbers have been released for J&J and Astra Zeneca for July.
This has led Spiegel Online to warn that "the number of vaccinations given in Germany is likely to decrease significantly in the coming weeks."
SPD health spokesman Karl Lauterbach is also concerned. "There is less vaccine than many people think," he said, adding that "if Biontech shipments drop this much, it will be hard to obtain herd immunity before mid-September."
But the story is a bit more complicated than that. The reason that Biontech deliveries were so high in June is because the company have beaten their delivery deadlines.
Asked by The Local for comment, the Health Ministry said of the Spiegel report: "It's wrong."
"Biontech brought forward its deliveries from the third quarter, meaning that significantly more people could be vaccinated in June than had been planned," ministry spokesman Andreas Deffner told us.
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Deffner explained that Biontech deliveries were always set to drop in July but would still account for 3.3 million doses a week.
"By the end of the summer, everyone who wants to receive a vaccine will be offered one." In other words - the government is still on target to meet a deadline set by Angela Merkel back in January
'It's getting trickier!'
No independent expert in Germany has spent more time crunching the numbers on the vaccine rollout than Sebastian Dullien, an economist at the Institute for Macroeconomy in Berlin.
Back in March, Dullien raised eyebrows by forecasting that everyone could be fully immunized by the end of July if all deliveries arrived on time. While he made the prediction at a time when the government was being lambasted for the slow progress of its rollout, the rapid acceleration of the campaign since has given weight to his forecast.
On Wednesday Dullien posted a detailed thread on Twitter giving his opinion on a possible vaccine shortage.
In his worst case scenario, one in which no more deliveries of Astra Zeneca or J&J arrive, three quarters of the adult population will have received a first dose by July 25th. In this scenario, the campaign would be delayed by around two weeks.
He stresses though that some supplies of the Astra Zeneca and J&J will still keep coming, which will lower the burden on the mRNA vaccines to cover second doses for people who received a first jab of Astra Zeneca.
"In the past seven days there have been a total of about 440,000 first vaccinations with J&J and 140,000 first vaccinations with Astra Zeneca. According to the delivery schedules, this (admittedly slow) pace should be sustainable," he says.
His conclusion: "We're still on course for vaccinating 52.1 million people for the first time by the first half of July, and 55.5 million by the second half of July - provided nothing more goes wrong now. But it's getting trickier!"