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COVID-19 VACCINES

‘Chaotic and badly managed’: Your verdict on Germany’s Covid vaccine rollout

We surveyed our readers to find out their experiences of the German Covid vaccine rollout. The verdict? Complexity, chaos, and hours spent refreshing search results on Doctolib.

'Chaotic and badly managed': Your verdict on Germany's Covid vaccine rollout
The Doctolib app, which many people used to book a vaccine appointment. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

On Thursday morning, Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted in celebration of another successful milestone in the vaccine rollout.

According to Spahn, 1.3 million residents of Germany received a vaccine shot on Wednesday alone, meaning that just under half of the population have now had at least one jab.

READ ALSO: Major milestone: more than 40 million Germans vaccinated against Covid

But behind the fanfare and positive PR, what is the experience of getting vaccinated really like in Germany – especially for internationals?

When we surveyed our readers on their experiences of securing (or trying to secure) a jab, their responses painted a picture of a confusing and uneven inoculation drive, where persistence, luck and contacts could determine who ended up with a shot in their arm, and who got put on a waiting list. 

Of the 101 people we surveyed, 65 percent had already had at least one of their vaccine appointments in Germany, or had managed to book one for the future.

Just under 30 percent said they hadn’t been able to get an appointment at all.

Describing how they’d secured their appointment, a significant proportion of the respondents said they felt they’d been lucky.

Meanwhile, of those that had managed to schedule an appointment, 48 percent said the slot was less than one month away, while 13 percent said theirs was 1-2 months away, and 39 percent said they would be waiting more than two months for their appointment. 

James Coleman, 59, from Goch, described his appointment as a “pure fluke”, while Alison Cuff, 49, from Berlin, said her jab appointment had come as a “complete surprise”. 

“I was offered it out of the blue when at my doctors for an unrelated reason,” she explained. “I felt like one of the luckiest people in the country.”

In several cases, people had tried to maximise their luck by taking a number of different routes to getting a vaccine simultaneously: registering with numerous doctors, signing up at centralised vaccine centres or on state portals, or trying to go through their employers. 

“I first registered on the online portal,” said Corinne Patterson, 50, from Greisheim in Hesse. “Then I tried at my GP’s, who put me on the waiting list without much hope.
 
“After that I managed to secure an appointment at my children’s paediatrician’s. In the meantime, as I was a volunteer in the voting station for the upcoming local elections on May 30th, I got an appointment organised by the town hall for election helpers almost two weeks before the election.”
 
Like fighting for a concert ticket
 
A similar strategy was taken by 25-year-old Thomas Boon in Frankfurt, who used numerous different registration systems in the search for an appointment. 
 
“I’ve signed up to five vaccine queues now,” he told The Local. “Hesse’s main portal, my doctor’s waiting list for BioNTech and AZ (3rd May), the Frankfurt vaccine bridge (May 11th), and finally a private service “sofort-impfen.de” (May 15th).” 
 
While he had no luck with the majority of these, Hesse’s central portal eventually offered him his first vaccine appointment on June 2nd. 
 
Other strategies for getting an appointment included an automated page-refreshing tool that sent alerts when free spots became available, Telegram channels dedicated to sharing info on free vaccine slots, and online websites like Impfterminradar.de and Sofort-Impfen.de, a notification service for local doctors’ appointments. Another tactic was booking a round-trip to Poland. 
 
Though almost two-thirds of respondents said they had either had their first jab or secured an appointment, many of these felt like it had been an unnecessarily hard battle to get one. 
 
Of the people we surveyed, 29.6 percent described the process as “fairly efficient”, while just under half (47.9 percent) said it had been “a bit of a nightmare”. 
 

“It was like fighting to get a concert ticket, like the Beatles came to back to life and they’re doing one final concert,” said 30-year-old Berliner Mariana Capa.

No centralised system

One of the most common complaints about Germany’s vaccination drive was the lack of a centralised system for booking, or at least finding information about, available vaccines. 

With Germany’s convoluted federal system creating different approaches for registering for a vaccine, and different approaches to prioritisation, many people felt that the vaccine rollout had ended up as a kind of postcode lottery.

“It might have been a good idea to use a centralised system rather than each state having different ways to register for a vaccine,” said Angeeka Biswas, 34, from Frankfurt.

In the sluggish early months of Germany’s vaccination drive, vaccine appointments could only be made at large, state-run vaccine centres by those in certain priority groups, but the system later opened up to include doctors’ surgeries, and even pop-up neighbourhood vaccination clinics. 

At different times, different types of vaccine were also available to different groups of people, with AstraZeneca first being recommended for people under 65 and then later only for people over 60.

Then, AstraZeneca was opened up in GP surgeries to people who wanted it, which was mainly younger people who weren’t in a priority group. 

“There are a lot of mixed messages coming out of Germany,” said Jessica, 39, from Berlin.

Having a centralised system could have been useful in helping people find an appointment and ensuring excess doses didn’t go to waste, added Rose K., 27, from Kalsruhe. 

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil” 

Several respondents to our survey commented on the fact that, with the lifting of prioritisation nationwide on June 7th, the most persistent people were often being vaccinated before older people, or those with health issues. 

READ ALSO: German cabinet approves decision to open up vaccines to all starting on Monday

“I have watched colleagues and friends considerably younger than me with no comorbidities and not in any priority category get vaccinated by their family doctors,” said Alan Bochum, 63, who lives in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Meanwhile, my doctor is not vaccinating, and no doctor I can find will vaccinate anyone who is not in the family of one of their patients – so it is pretty aggravating.”

“It’s disgraceful that over 60’s can’t get an appointment,” agreed Elaine Bannister, a 63-year-old resident of East Westphalia-Lippe. “Even though we are priority group three.”


People come to their vaccination appointments in the MV Werften company canteen, which was converted into a pop-up vaccination centre on June 13th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Gregor Fischer

Elaine Lynch, 33, who lives in Berlin, spent hours on Doctolib attempting to book an appointment – but only managed to secure one when a friend happened to be online at the right time.

“Even though I was in a priority group because I have asthma, I couldn’t get an appointment no matter how hard I tried,” she said.

“I eventually got lucky because a friend sent a link to a place with open appointments one morning, and I got the last one! Honestly, it was such a stressful experience and so chaotic and badly managed.” 

There was a strong feeling among respondents that, since the lifting of the priority lists, the vaccine roll-out had become a free-for-all, with everyone scrambling to get their hands on limited doses of vaccines. 

A lot of people found it especially unfair that the young, healthy, and above all, persistent, were getting in line before those who were more vulnerable, but less clued-up, or with less time on their hands. 

The feeling that noisiness counted more than need was perfectly summed up by Tiffany Weihgold, 46, who lives in the Frankfurt area.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” she said. 

“Try everything”

Not everyone agreed that scrapping prioritisation was a bad thing, however, and others found the negative presentation of “queue jumping” youngsters or “shot snatchers” to be unfair. 

“In a pandemic, there is no one who doesn’t need a vaccine,” argued Jessica, 39, from Berlin. “Negative portrayals of people who understand the importance of getting vaccinated and who refuse to be kept waiting indefinitely only fuel conspiracy theorists who don’t think we need vaccines.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – How can people in Germany get a Covid vaccine appointment?

Across all corners of Germany, the advice for securing that all-important jab was clear: ask around, and don’t give up.

“Try everything,” advised Gary Scott, 52, in Berlin. “Register with your doctor, join the Telegram and Twitter groups, sign up for the website sofort-impfen.de and call the vaccination hotline every day.”

“Just try at a variety of places, and consider travelling if necessary,” said Jen M. from Ladenburg, a town in Baden-Württemberg. “My partner managed to eventually get an appointment two hours away!”

For Eduardo Camaratta, 36, in Berlin, meanwhile, the answer lies in the humble ‘enter’ key. 

“Don’t give up,” he said. “And refresh Doctolib constantly.”

*******

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and are sincerely grateful to everybody who took the time to fill in the survey.

If there’s anything you’d like to ask or tell us about our coverage, please feel free to get in touch.

Member comments

  1. I wasn’t surveyed but I’ll share my story. I’ve been here since July of 2018 in Berlin (Adlershof). I saw a doctor in the area in April 2019 for 6-8 visits. My boss suggested in May to go ask him. This was a few days after they said anyone could have AstraZeneca. I went on a Monday and they told me in two days I could have my 1st shot. Then they looked at my past medical records (admittedly I am 100% healthier now) and said I qualified for Tier 2 status and could have the BioNTech shot. They gave me an appointment for the next Wednesday or 9 days later. It was a complete and total shock that it went like that. I now have my second shot on the 30th of June. Total luck.

  2. Hello!
    As a long-time immigrant/resident of Germany, I do not find the vaccination system chaotic. Actually, considering the situation worldwide, this is a good place to be. We have reached lower numbers of infected and the vaccine is rolling – maybe slowly, but steadily. And much quicker than many other countries.
    It is easy to point fingers. But fact is: this is a very new situation for the whole world and even good organizers, planners are caught with good and bad decisions.
    I trust this system and know that it is only going to get better with time! Vaccines will come, all will get their appointments!

    Best regards,

    Yo

    1. I cannot agree with you at all. The Central control never existed, friends of friends got vaccinated so they can go on Holiday, older people in real danger of serious illness did not. In Westfalen Lippe for instance, the ONLY Impfzcentrum that is supposed to service ALL of the area of Dortmund is CLOSED for any new appointments, as are all the Doctors, due to a shortage of vaccine. It is smug to say that everyone will get their appointments & vaccine – some people will not be alive because of this unholy mess. As I see it, all the “We are doing brilliantly” is just BS to bolster support for the Elections.

      1. Hello Richard!
        “The Central control never existed”??? Are you in Germany? Can you read or speak German? I’m afraid you are not informed. We are not going to mix vaccination in pandemic times with federal elections. This is not a political issue, but a health one! The concrete point is: as of yesterday, 18.06.21, 50.6% of the citzens in Germany have received the 1st vaccine dose and 30.4% have received both jabs. Not the ideal statistics, but we are moving forward. We can happily announce that new infections and deaths in Germany have decreased greatly, significantly in the last weeks. In Lippe, like in some other towns or villages, there was a shortage of vaccine doses this week. But, as of this coming Wednesday the roll-out will continue – there will be more vaccine doses available! If you speak and read German, there are websites and phone central hotlines for you to contact. Have a good day!

        1. Hello Patricia!
          I’ve lived in Germany for over twenty years, and yes I speak and read German, and I follow the various information websites. To inform you, Westfalen Lippe is not a Town or Village as you seemed to think, it is the whole eastern area of the NRW, containing a lot of people . Vaccines have not been short for just this week, but for way more than a Month, and the vaccine doses beginning to arrive next week will basically only cover people with previous appointments for their second dose. No first dose appointments are possible right now.
          Category 3 was opened up less than a week before the June 7th deadline, but with no access to appointments at the impfzentrum – everyone had to contact their local Doctor. Every Doctor we spoke to said that nobody could make an appointment until the middle of June at the earliest, so one week AFTER the June 7th Deadline, when everyone in theory could apply, because they simply did not have the doses. This is why many 60+ people and people with pre-existing health conditions still have not even had their first dose. Then the local officials had the gaul to state “Category 3 people are being vaccinated, we are on schedule for removing the Category list on time”.
          Other areas have done much better, but overall control to make sure that people who needed to get injected first got priority, rather than the “Squeaky Wheels” would have been better.

  3. Hello!
    As a long-time immigrant/resident of Germany, I do not find the vaccination system chaotic. Actually, considering the situation worldwide, this is a good place to be. We have reached lower numbers of infected and the vaccine is rolling – maybe slowly, but steadily. And much quicker than many other countries.
    It is easy to point fingers. But fact is: this is a very new situation for the whole world and even good organizers, planners are caught with good and bad decisions.
    I trust this system and know that it is only going to get better with time! Vaccines will come, all will get their appointments!

    Best regards,

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Arrive three hours early’: Your tips for flying in Germany this summer

Crowded airports, long waits in security and disruption to flights - lots of travellers have been facing these problems while flying in Europe. Here's what readers in Germany had to say.

'Arrive three hours early': Your tips for flying in Germany this summer

Catching a flight can be a stressful experience at the best of times. But due to major staff shortages and a surging demand for travel after Covid restrictions were eased, flying is even more difficult. 

Travellers in Germany are also seeing disruption, including delays and cancelled flights or having to queue for a long time to check-in or go through security. 

READ ALSO: How air passengers across Europe face a summer of flight chaos 

Kuwano, originally from Japan and now living in Berlin, said he uses the BER airport to travel abroad three or four times a month for business. He said the situation has been chaotic lately.

When he flew to Paris on June 1st, he said there were long waits at the check-in and bag drop-off counters – and it got progressively worse.

“As I made my way to the security gate, I despaired,” the 34-year-old told The Local. “There was a queue from near the gate where the tickets were checked. It reminded me of Disneyland in Japan. But there was no elation, as if I was about to go on a dreamy ride to meet the characters.”

Kuwano said seven people asked to go in front of him in the security line because they were afraid they would miss their flight. 

“There was also a long queue at the counter when I went through the security gate to buy water,” he said. “I gave up, went to the toilet and checked the time, only to find that we had five minutes until departure. There were so many people rushing to the plane on the final call that the departure was eventually delayed by 20 minutes.”

Kuwana said he would take the train in future when possible instead of flying.

‘Airlines need to cancel flights early’

In a survey for the Local, most people said they were concerned about travelling by air this summer because of the issues.

READ ALSO: How your travel plans to Germany could change this summer

Kristoffer, 42, said Berlin’s airport “needs to manage and prompt people better at security”.

A sign for security at Hamburg airport.

A sign for security checks at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

“A lot of time is wasted not knowing what to expect when going through security control. Airlines needs to cancel flights early rather than late to minimise disruption.”

Smruthi Panyam, 43, flew with Lufthansa from Frankfurt. He said: “Sorry to say but the lines at the airport check-in are so long even for business class, I recommend reaching the airport at least three hours prior to your flight.”

Chris, 40, who has flown at various German airports recently, said: “Leave lots of time, be prepared for last-minute changes and do your research with flight trackers etc. if possible.”

Bego, 43, flew from Hamburg and said security control was “chaos”. He advised people to arrive 2.5 hours early to the airport. 

Another respondent, Russ, 58, who lives in Mainz said he has flown from Frankfurt and Munich airports recently. He said both were “very crowded” with long lines to check in luggage and go through security.

“Expect and plan for delays and flight cancellations,” he said. “If traveling for vacation, plan at least a two-day buffer for your return, so that delays/cancellations don‘t cause missed work or missed school.

“Airlines should reduce the number of reservations they accept until airline and airport resources can catch up to demand. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, as airlines are happy to take consumers‘ money now, and push their resource problems onto the consumers later.”

As The Local reported, Germany’s biggest airline Lufthansa said last week it was cancelling 900 flights in July alone due to the staffing problems.

But bosses warned that disruption could still happen despite the schedule cuts. 

A big part of the problem is that many people who worked for airlines and airports lost their job or were forced to look for other jobs due to reduced work at the height of Covid when travel was severely restricted.

READ ALSO: Germany may face airport chaos in summer, warns minister

Several readers said the aviation industry needed to make a big effort to restore staffing levels to what they were before the pandemic. 

‘Bring your own meal’

Some respondents to our survey flagged up the different experiences they’ve had in German airports

Jonathan, 37, said at Cologne airport, hardly any shops were open, while in Frankfurt there’s a “complete rat race” if you need to change flights or get to another terminal or gate because of ongoing construction. 

He called for “better management of airline timetables”.

People walk in Frankfurt airport.

Travellers walk in Frankfurt airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P. Albert

“Christmas was a peak travel time (despite Omicron) and it went off without a hitch,” said Jonathan. “Yet suddenly – presumably with the same staff available as at Christmas, the summer is suddenly lacking staff.”

Sandra, 54, flew from Baden-Baden. She advised that air passengers bring a mobile phone charger and a meal with them because lots of outlets close early.

Meanwhile, Allison, 37, who travelled from Hamburg airport said people should also leave plenty of time for getting to the airport. She said there’s been “lots of disruption on the S3 line lately”.

The Local approached some large German airports to ask how they are dealing with the current situation.

A spokesman from BER airport told The Local: “Together with all our partners at the airport, we are currently meticulously preparing for the upcoming summer travel season so that our passengers can relax and take off on holiday from BER.

“Within the industry, there is a shortage of skilled workers to meet staffing needs as demand picks up. This does not affect the airport company Berlin Brandenburg. But partners at BER can also be affected. Therefore, at peak times we cannot always rule out having to ask passengers to be patient.”

The spokesman advised passengers to arrive at least two hours before departure and have all documents ready for the flight.

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