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COVID-19

Germany agrees to offer Covid booster shots from September

Germany will start offering Covid booster shots from September and make it easier for 12-to-17 year olds to get a jab, the health ministry said Monday, amid concerns about the spread of the Delta variant.

Germany agrees to offer Covid booster shots from September
A teenager waiting for a vaccine in Dessau-Roßlau, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Health Minister Jens Spahn and his 16 regional peers agreed after talks that the elderly and at-risk should receive a booster shot, citing concerns over “a reduced or rapidly declining immune response” among some groups.

Mobile vaccination teams should be sent into care and nursing homes, the text says, to offer Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna booster shots to residents, regardless of which vaccine they had originally.

Doctors will also be able to administer booster jabs to those who qualify, including people with weakened immune systems.

A booster shot will also be offered to anyone who received the two-dose AstraZeneca or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the document released by Spahn’s ministry said, “in the interests of preventative healthcare”.

Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are viral vector vaccines, whereas the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use novel mRNA technology that has shown high efficacy in studies.

More access to vaccines for over 12s

The ministers also agreed to make the coronavirus vaccine more widely available to over-12s, going a step further than the country’s STIKO vaccines regulator.

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The regulator currently only recommends the coronavirus vaccine for 12-17 year olds if they have pre-existing conditions or live with people at high
risk from Covid.

Although adolescents who do not fall into those categories are still allowed to get vaccinated, in consultation with their parents and doctors, the cautious STIKO guidance has slowed take-up.

Germany’s health ministers agreed on Monday to encourage vaccination among teens by opening all the country’s vaccination centres to 12-17 year olds, alongside the possibility to get vaccinated at regular clinics.

The ministers stressed that the jab was voluntary but said getting children and teenagers vaccinated could “contribute significantly to a safe return to classrooms after the summer holidays”.

Although Germany is currently enjoying relatively low infection rates compared with neighbouring countries, case numbers have been creeping up in recent weeks mainly because of the more contagious Delta variant.

There are also concerns about a slowdown in the country’s vaccination rate, with just over 52 percent of the population fully inoculated.

Within the European Union, the European Medicines Agency has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots for all over-12s.

STIKO head Thomas Mertens told public radio MDR that the body was still waiting for data from longer-term studies before deciding on issuing a more
general vaccine recommendation for over-12s.

The problem, he added, “is not so much the children’s vaccinations”.

What is needed to help suppress a fourth Covid wave in Germany “is a high vaccination rate among 18-to-59 year olds”.

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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