Why Germany is embroiled in a row over vaccinating children against Covid

The German government is pushing for more children to get vaccinated but the move is against the advice of its own advisory board. So who will come out on top?

Why Germany is embroiled in a row over vaccinating children against Covid
Youngsters over the age of 12 at a vaccination centre in Hanover in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

What’s happening?

Germany’s Health Ministry wants to open up vaccination centres to all 12 to 17-year olds in a bid to get more younger people vaccinated. 

That’s according to a new draft paper set to be discussed on Monday by federal Health Minister Jens Spahn and state health ministers.

“All states should offer vaccinations for 12 to 17-year-olds at vaccination centres,” the ministry wrote in the draft proposals that were sent to states before Monday’s meeting.

The government also wants to see schools and universities offering the jab. 

“This can contribute significantly to a safer start to teaching and learning after the summer vacations,” said the government’s draft paper.

In some states, vaccination campaigns are already planned at schools. Schleswig-Holstein, for example, wants to encourage older schoolchildren to get vaccinated.

From August 19th, mobile teams will be sent out to offer the jab to students aged 12 and older, as well as all employee. Some other states are planning similar drives.

READ ALSO: Masks, Covid tests, jabs and vaccinations: How German children are returning to the classroom

Can younger people get a Covid-19 vaccine in Germany?

Yes – but the advice is a little cloudy. 

In June, Germany’s STIKO vaccine commission, which advises the government on vaccination matters, only officially recommended the vaccine only for 12-17 year olds if they have pre-existing conditions – such as diabetes or obesity – or if they live with people at high risk from Covid.

That’s the case despite pressure from German politicians who want STIKO to issue a blanket recommendation to all children over 12.

Adolescents who don’t fall into those categories are still allowed to get vaccinated in Germany if they consult with their parents and doctors.

But the cautious STIKO guidance has, understandably, slowed take-up of the vaccine among younger age groups.  

Up to July 21st, around two percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 had been vaccinated in Germany, reported Spiegel.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

Germany is desperately trying to get as much people vaccinated as possible over fears of a fourth wave fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant.

READ ALSO: Germany at start of fourth Covid wave – but infections slowing 

In May, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine by BioNTech/Pfizer for children aged 12 and over. Recently, the Moderna vaccine was also approved in Europe for the younger age group of 12 to 17.

What is the STIKO vaccine commission saying?

On Monday the head of STIKO, Thomas Mertens, said the advisory board was sticking to its decision.

Since children and adolescents have a relatively low risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19, the risk-benefit assessment of illness or vaccination is different than for adults, according to the experts. 

READ ALSO: Covid infection rate goes up – but vaccines having impact on hospitalisations

Mertens told radio station NDR Info on Monday: “We say we can’t make a general recommendation until we have the necessary reliable data in this regard.”

STIKO’s role is purely to give advice, and the government can choose to go a different route. 

Germany has so far been hoping that children get vaccinated as fears grow over Covid cases spiking in schools after summer. But now it looks like the government wants to step it up and pro-actively encourage more families to have children vaccinated – in contrast the STIKO advice. 

Mertens said on Monday that STIKO feels political pressure to change the advice.

However, he said, this had no influence on their actions. “It may well be that we will change our recommendation, but certainly not because politicians have spoken out,” Mertens said.

Mertens added that this discussion detracts from the issue of achieving a high vaccination rate among 18 to 59-year-olds who are more likely to suffer severe illness if they contract Covid.

Why is this topic controversial?

There is currently a debate worldwide on whether or when children should get vaccinated against Covid, with countries holding varying viewpoints.

In July, vaccine advisers in the UK recommended delaying vaccines for most young people under 16. They said that it was down to the very low rates of serious disease in this age group. However, the UK has recommended vaccinating children aged 12-15 if they are at higher risk of Covid due to certain underlying health conditions.

Countries like France, Italy, Spain the US and Israel are generally offering the vaccine to adolescents regardless of whether they’re a risk group. 

What are politicians saying across Germany?

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach said Monday that STIKO was taking an “outsider’s position” and urged them to rethink.

He said studies on the vaccination of children show that an infection with the Delta Covid-19 variant is more dangerous than vaccination.

Scientifically peaking, he said that “vaccinations help children”.

Baden-Württemberg health minister Manne Lucha, of the Greens, is in favor of vaccinations for young people.

Approval also came from Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s acting health minister Petra Grimm-Benne (SPD) said: “The demand for this (vaccinations in children) is there.”

The state is already planning special vaccination campaigns for adolescents.

But criticism came from the Free Democrats (FDP) which questioned why health ministers would go against STIKO advice. 

Member comments

  1. We all have been vaccinated against so many other diseases during our early childhood. Why is this vaccine any different?

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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.


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”.