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

'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
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.

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. 

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

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. 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,

  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. 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.

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