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SUMMER HOLIDAYS

EXPLAINED: What to do if your second Covid jab in Germany clashes with your holiday

We're all keen to get our second Covid jab, but what happens if your vaccine appointment falls while you're away from Germany? We take a look at your rights and options.

EXPLAINED: What to do if your second Covid jab in Germany clashes with your holiday
Tourists relax on the beach in Greece, where Birgit H. had planned to have her post-lockdown break. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/XinHua | Lefteris Partsalis

It’s been a long wait for the Covid vaccine rollout in Germany to truly get underway, yet with around 53.6 percent of the population now partially vaccinated, many people feel as if freedom is just around the corner.

But with summer and the school holidays now upon us, there’s another risk: being given an appointment for the second shot at the exact same time you’re flying abroad for a post-lockdown holiday. 

That’s exactly what happened to Birgit H., a resident of Bavaria who shared her story with regional radio station BR24.

Having booked a holiday in Greece a few days after her last dose of vaccine was due, her GP surgery suddenly informed her they had run out of doses, and had to push the appointment back a week. In other words – to the exact same time she was supposed to be on the beach.

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to tighten testing and quarantine travel rules?

If you’re in Birgit’s position, it may seem like bad luck, but you do have options. Here’s what you need to know about your consumer rights if your second dose coincides with your holiday. 

My doctor offered me a vaccine appointment and then suddenly postponed it – can I take legal action?

According to legal experts, vaccine appointments – much like Ikea delivery windows – are considered more of a rough estimation of when you will be seen, rather than a cast-iron guarantee. 

Vaccination centres and doctors’ surgeries can’t generally be held liable if the appointment you’ve been given isn’t honoured, travel law expert Professor Ronald Schmid of Dresden Technical University told BR24. 

What about travel insurance? Will that help?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic came to Europe, travel insurance has provided tourists with a sense that they can hedge their bets against ongoing uncertainty – such as sudden outbreaks of the pandemic, travel bans or falling ill.

In reality, however, travel insurance policies don’t tend to account for every eventuality, and it’s quite unlikely that they’d reimburse a missed holiday due to a vaccination appointment. 

That’s according to Julia Zeller, a lawyer from the Bavarian Consumer Advice Centre, who spoke to BR24 about the issue. In most cases, your travel insurance will cover you if you get ill ahead of your trip abroad, and in Zeller’s view, it’s unlikely that this would stretch to include vaccinations.

Nevertheless, she says, it’s always worth checking the small-print of your policy. You never know whether you might be eligible for a refund, after all. 

Do holidays count as a valid excuse to postpone a vaccine appointment?  

According to the Bavarian Health Ministry, the answer is ‘no’ – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try. Though planned holidays aren’t considered an “urgent personal reason” for a postponement, your vaccination centre or GP may be willing to show some flexibility. 

For AstraZeneca, for example, the Federal Health Ministry has previously said that those willing to get inoculated with the the vector vaccine are free to organise the gap between doses with their doctor – as long as the second appointment falls within the permitted window of four to twelve weeks.

READ ALSO: Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?

For Modern and Pfizer/BioNTech, official advice suggests that the second dose should be taken no more than 60 days (or roughly eight and a half weeks) after the first, so be aware of this if you attempt to postpone the second dose. 

There’s also the chance that last-minute doses may show up after all due to missed appointments – which is exactly what happened to Birgit H., BR24 reports. 

Can I postpone my holiday instead?

If you’re unable to find a suitable alternative appointment for your second vaccine dose, changing or cancelling your trip may well be the best option. Many travel agents have introduced a range of ‘good faith’ options for people to amend their trip due to Covid-related issues, though Zeller doesn’t believe that vaccination appointments are generally covered.

According to the consumer rights expert, you may be given two options: either take the holiday regardless, or cancel or amend it and pay the associated fees. 

However, with many travel agents and airlines offering flexible booking options in the Covid pandemic, a lot may depend on the type of booking you have; how last-minute your request is, and how willing the company is to compromise. In any case, if you approach your travel agent or airline and explain your situation, they may be open to finding another solution. 

Does it matter that I’m not fully vaccinated when I leave to go abroad?

For many countries (although not all), people who can present a negative test or certificate of recovery from Covid-19 are put on an even-footing with the fully vaccinated when entering Germany, so if your final vaccine appointment falls after your holidays, you should still in some cases be able to travel with a negative test or proof of recovery instead. 

READ ALSO: Germany relaxes travel rules for vaccinated non-EU residents – What you need to know

That said, you may feel more comfortable travelling abroad when you have greater immunity, especially if you are visiting bustling tourist hotspots. 

Based on present evidence, medical experts believe that a single dose of vaccine is much less effective against the Delta variant of Covid-19 than a completed course of vaccinations.

This could mean that a visit abroad poses greater risks to people who aren’t yet fully immunised – though the choice, of course, is up to you. 

Vocabulary

holiday – (der) Urlaub

postpone appointment – (den) Termin verschieben 

consumer rights – (die) Verbraucherrechte

cancel – stornieren 

amend – ändern

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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”. 

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