SHARE
COPY LINK

NEWSLETTER

Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?

A single vaccine dose has been shown to be largely ineffective against the Delta variant of Covid-19 - so German health experts are considering whether a shorter gap between the first and second dose is needed.

Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?
A sign directs people to the vaccination centre in Berlin's now-defunct Tegel Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

With the the proportion of Delta variant Covid cases rising in Germany, experts are currently mulling over a new strategy to combat it: shortening the intervals between the first and second dose of the vaccine.

The new approach is being considered in light of the fact that vaccinated people are likely to be protected highly infectious variant – but only if they have had all necessary doses of the vaccine. 

READ ALSO: Share of Delta variant Covid cases in Germany almost doubles in a week

“The question is not a trivial one,” Thomas Mertens, the head of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), told DPA.

According to the Ulm-based virologist, there are various pros and cons to shortening the gaps between doses.

“We are currently trying to secure the necessary evidence,” he added.

So far, Stiko has been recommending longer intervals between the two vaccinations than the intervals stipulated by regulators when the vaccines were approved. 

There are good reasons for this: with AstraZeneca, for example, evidence suggests that the longer you wait between vaccines, the better immunity you have.

With limited doses of vaccines available – and ongoing supply issues – there is also an argument for providing as many people as possible with the first dose, so that as many people as possible are at least partly protected against the virus.

READ ALSO: ‘Vaccinate quickly’: German states seeing surge in Delta variant Covid cases

For AstraZeneca, the previous advice from the panel of experts at Stiko is to allow twelve weeks to elapse between the first and second dose. For the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – the recommended interval is six weeks.

According to the pharmaceutical regulators, however, a faster course would be possible: two BioNTech doses three weeks apart, with Moderna and AstraZeneca given four weeks apart.

In the case of the AstraZeneca vector vaccine, according to the Health Ministry, those wishing to be vaccinated are free to agree the interval individually with doctors within the permitted period of four to twelve weeks.

“A certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccine”

Helge Braun (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, told the Morgenmagazin on Thursday that the government’s main challenge was to offer all over-12s at the least one dose of the vaccine by the end of summer.

READ ALSO: ‘This can be a good summer’: Half of Germans vaccinated at least once against Covid

Regarding the timing of the second dose, the main concern should be effectiveness, he said.

“We just know that a certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccination,” he told reporters. 

When pressed on whether shortening the intervals between doses was the advice of the hour, Braun said it wasn’t.

On Twitter, German immunologist Carsten Watzl pointed out that, while cases of Delta were rising as a proportion of infections due to falling infection rates overall, the actual number of infections with Delta was still stable – and may even be declining. 

This means that the longer, 12-week interval for AstraZeneca vaccinations could be still be used as long as people were fully vaccinated by autumn, he said. 

The virologist Christian Drosten has been pointing out for a long time that the first jab is not particularly effective against Delta. 

This is also the view of Watzl, who would like to see the majority of people fully protected in time for a potential fourth wave of the virus. 

“The second vaccination is urgently needed in order to be able to properly ward off the mutations,” he said in a recent interview with the German Press Agency.

“Shortening the current vaccination intervals, especially of BioNTech, of course makes sense in order to achieve complete inoculation as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, on Wednesday.

“The maximum vaccine interval for BioNTech is only justified by the lack of vaccines.”

In Germany, increased shares of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, are now being recorded.

However, the number of cases caused by the mutation has only increased relatively slightly so far, while the trend for infections caused by the still dominant Alpha variant is declining more sharply.

In the future, it is expected that Delta will overtake Alpha as the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Germany. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19 VACCINES

Are people who’ve had the single J&J jab no longer fully vaccinated in Germany?

Germany's federal vaccine agency says that people who've had one dose of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine should no longer be classed as being fully vaccinated.

People queue for a vaccination in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt.
People queue for a vaccination in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

People who’ve had J&J, sometimes known as Janssen, used to have full vaccination status after a single dose of the vaccine. 

Since January 15th, however, a single dose of J&J should no longer count as full vaccination, according to the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), the country’s vaccine authority. 

In autumn last year the German government began recommending a second mRNA jab for people who’d had J&J – which many people thought was the booster vaccination. 

However, according to the PEI’s update on proof of vaccination within the Covid Protective Measures Exemption Ordinance and the Coronavirus Entry Ordinance, the second shot is needed to complete ‘basic immunisation’.

It is unclear at this stage if it means that people returning or coming to Germany from abroad with only one shot of J&J will be counted as partially vaccinated and therefore need to present tests or face other forms of barriers to entry. 

We are also looking into what this means for the various health pass rules in states, such as the 3G rules for transport. 

The Deutsches Ärzteblatt, a German-language medical magazine, said: “Special rules according to which one dose was recognised as a complete vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are no longer applicable.”

The Local has contacted the German Health Ministry for clarification on what this means for those affected. 

According to the latest government figures, 5.3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson have been given out in Germany so far in the vaccination campaign. 

The news will come as a shock to those who don’t know that they need another jab, or haven’t got round to getting their second vaccine yet. 

All other jabs – such as BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – already require two jabs. 

People in Germany are seen as fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose. 

What about boosters?

As The Local Germany has been reporting, the German government said in December that people who’ve had J&J need a third shot three months after their second dose to be considered boosted.

A German Health Ministry spokesman told us last week that due to more vaccination breakthrough infections affecting people who’ve had the J&J vaccine, extra protection was needed.

“Therefore, after completion of the basic immunisation as recommended by STIKO, i.e. after administration of two vaccine doses (preferably 1x J&J + 1x mRNA), following the current recommendation of the STIKO, a further booster vaccination can subsequently be administered with a minimum interval of a further three months, as with the other approved Covid-19 vaccines,” the Health Ministry spokesman said. 

However, there has been much confusion on this front because some states have been accepting J&J and another shot as being boosted, while others haven’t.

READ ALSO:

It is unclear if the new regulation will mean that states will all have to only accept J&J and two shots as being boosted. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, updated its regulations on January 16th and now requires that people who’ve had J&J and one shot have another jab to be boosted. 

Having a booster shot in Germany means that you do not have to take a Covid-19 test if you’re entering a venue, such as a restaurant or cafe, under the 2G-plus rules.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute said that proof of complete vaccination protection against Covid takes into account “the current state of medical science”. 

SHOW COMMENTS