Unvaccinated children could jeopardise herd immunity, German health experts warn

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Unvaccinated children could jeopardise herd immunity, German health experts warn
A 12-year-old being vaccinated in Cologne in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Germany has been debating how many people need to be jabbed to achieve so-called herd immunity. One of the biggest questions is whether younger people should be vaccinated.


The German Society for Immunology (DGFI) on Tuesday said that herd immunity against Covid-19 is not achievable without the widespread vaccination of children and adolescents.

"Typically, one assumes herd immunity when 60 to 70 percent of the population is protected against the pathogen," said Vice President Reinhold Förster to the newspapers of the Funke Media Group on Tuesday. 

"However, this assumes that the pathogen cannot multiply in these people."

With Sars-Cov-2, however, this is not the case: people can transmit the virus even though they themselves are not ill and even if they have been vaccinated and are completely symptom-free. The situation has worsened with the Delta variant, he added. 

"It is much more transmissible. It very much affects adolescents and children," said Förster.


"As long as this group is not vaccinated at all or only slightly vaccinated, we will not get herd immunity."

'Herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity', is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

The aim in Germany is to achieve 'herd immunity' and protect people through mass vaccination. 

In order to combat the Delta variant of Covid, the Robert Koch Institute says at least 85 percent of people aged 12 to 59 and 90 percent of people aged 60 and over should be fully vaccinated.

“If this vaccination quota is reached in time, a pronounced fourth wave in the coming autumn and winter seems unlikely,” the public health institute said in a paper released on Monday. 

“The results [of our study] show that under the assumptions made, in particular an increasing dominance of the Delta variant, the vaccination campaign should be continued with high intensity.” 

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No general recommendation for children to be jabbed

For the time being, the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) has not issued a general vaccination recommendation for children over the age of 12.

It recommends vaccinations only for 12- to 17-year-olds with certain pre-existing conditions that mean they are at more risk of falling ill with Covid-19.

Irrespective of this, however, vaccinations are possible in children as part of a decision on a case-by-case basis by parents with their children and the doctors. The only vaccine approved for this age group so far is BioNTech/Pfizer. 

So far, there is no approved vaccine for children under 12 years of age.



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