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EXPLAINED: Why vaccinated people in Germany are still getting Covid

Around one in two people in Germany are fully inoculated against Covid, but infection rates are rising. Here's a look at why that's happening - and why it still pays to get vaccinated.

EXPLAINED: Why vaccinated people in Germany are still getting Covid
A man gets his Covid jab in Wuppertal. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Malte Krudewig | Malte Krudewig

What’s happening?

At around 17.5 new weekly cases per 100,000 people, Germany’s incidence of Covid infections is still very much on the low side – but health experts are concerned at the pace at which the numbers are rising.

At a press conference recently, Health Minister Jens Spahn predicted that if the country continued along its current trajectory, the 7-day incidence of cases could soar over the coming months and end up at 800 cases per 100,000 people.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Will Germany’s Covid incidence really reach 800 by October?

On the other side of the coin, the number of people getting vaccinated in Germany is at a relatively high level, and creeping up bit by bit. As of Tuesday, the proportion of people who’d had both jabs was just shy of the 50 percent mark – meaning every one in two residents of the country is technically protected against Covid-19.

In its latest Covid-19 situation report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) revealed that small proportion of people who had been vaccinated had also been infected with Covid.

Does that mean that Covid vaccines aren’t working?

Far from it. In fact, experts have taken it as a positive sign that vaccinated people account for such a small percentage of the total number of infections over the past few months.

That said, it’s important to understand that not all vaccines are 100 percent effective, and that different vaccines can have different levels of effectiveness against different Covid variants. This is because some variants, such as Delta, are more infectious than others.

READ ALSO: European health authorities warn of surge in Delta variant infections

In general, inoculated people are between 66 and 95 percent protected against getting an infection in the first place – depending on the type of vaccine and the variant in question. Other factors such as age and existing illnesses can also come into play.

Here’s where it gets more complicated, though, since being infected does not necessarily mean getting severely ill, so if you get infected after being vaccinated, you could well escape with nothing more than a runny nose.

Immunology expert Carsten Watzl points out on Twitter that vaccinations seem to be offering good protection against the Delta variant in Italy.

So how many of the new cases in Germany were fully vaccinated?

Since February 1st, 2021, 1,425,729 new Covid infections have been recorded by the Robert Koch Institute. Of these, 6,125 were so-called “vaccination breakthroughs” (or Impfdurchbrüche, in German), meaning cases in which the individual had received a full course of doses but nonetheless become ill with Covid.

That means that only around 0.45 percent of the new cases in Germany have involved people who are fully vaccinated. The vast majority of people who became ill from Covid were people with no existing immunity, as well as a certain proportion of people who had also recovered from the virus in previous months. 

Can vaccinated people still get hopitalised from Covid?

It is possible, but once again, it largely depends on whether the individual is particularly vulnerable to what are known as ‘severe courses’ of Covid.

These high risk groups, such as the elderly or those with a weakened immune system, have a reduced risk of hospitalisation or death from Covid after getting vaccinated. However, in comparison with young and healthy people who have had a vaccine, the chance of getting very ill or being hospitalised is naturally higher.

Going back to the RKI’s stats, just under a third (29 percent) of the people who became ill with Covid after getting vaccinated were hospitalised. Of these, none were under the age of 18, two percent were between 18 and 59 years old, and 27 percent were over the age of 60.

According to science journalist Volkart Wildermuth, if people over the age of 80 have a 10 percent chance of dying from Covid, vaccination can reduce this to one percent. “That’s a big difference,” he told Deutschland Funk on Monday.

READ ALSO: Merkel urges Germans to get vaccinated amid ‘exponential growth’ of Covid infections

In addition, health experts believe that every jab does its bit to protect the populace as a whole. If Germany manages to put shots in the arms of at least 85 percent of its 12-59 year olds, the country could finally attain those two much sought-after words: herd immunity.

Member comments

  1. Stop pcr testing at 45 cycles and reports from the CDC have now stated that lateral flow and antigen tests are providing false positives by a very large percentage.

    1. What is “very large”? Please be more specific if you are going to post a quasi-scientific comment.

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For members


EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.