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Who’s about to get a top-up Covid shot in Germany – and why?

The German government is set to hand out booster Covid vaccinations to certain groups of people from next month. We look at who's in line for a 'refresher' jab, and why authorities say they're needed.

Who's about to get a top-up Covid shot in Germany - and why?
A doctor from a mobile vaccination team waits at Hermannplatz in Berlin. Some booster jabs will be carried out by mobile teams in care homes and nursing homes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

What’s happening?

At the Health Ministers’ conference on Monday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn, of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), and his 16 state counterparts, resolved to offer booster Covid jabs to certain groups of people in Germany from September. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees to offer Covid booster shots from September

The additional shots will be carried out with one of the two mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna – and administered by local GPs and mobile vaccination teams. 

According to Spahn, the idea is to give people who most need it additional protection from Covid over the autumn and winter months, particularly in light of the dominance of the highly infectious Delta variant. 

READ ALSO: Covid infection rate in Germany goes up – but vaccines having an impact

Who’s in line to get an additional shot?

At first, only specific groups of the population will be offered a third jab. The main group will be those who are considered to be especially vulnerable to being hospitalised with Covid-19.

This group includes the elderly, who have been shown to be much more at risk of death or hospitalisation from Covid, and people with chronic conditions that might affect their immune systems. 

Announcing the decision from the Health Ministers’ conference, Spahn said the step would be taken as a “precautionary measure” and that the jabs would be issued via mobile vaccination teams in care homes, assisted living facilities and other organisations that care for the elderly and vulnerable.

Other vulnerable people who don’t live in a care home will be able to book their booster jab with their local doctor, or Hausarzt

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why vaccinated people in Germany are still getting Covid

Another group in line for an additional dose are those who have only been vaccinated with one of the so-called viral vector vaccines, meaning two shots of AstraZeneca or one of Johnson & Johnson. This group will likely have the chance to a get a top-up jab at their local GP’s office from September onwards.

People who’ve had the Johnson & Johnson (aka ‘Janssen’) vaccine will be eligible for a booster jab after six months. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The ministers have stressed, however, that the additional jab is entirely optional, and that it should be taken at least six months after the last vaccine dose was administered. 

As many people in Germany – especially younger people – have only recently been given their shots, their top-up shot isn’t quite around the corner. 

Will there be the chance for a booster jab in future?

The short answer appears to be yes – though we don’t know exactly when. Back in July, the Health Ministry announced that it secured enough vaccine doses to give everyone in the country at least two booster jabs in 2022.

At the moment, though, it appears that ministers are keen to prioritise the people who need in most – especially light of rising infection rates and fears that the fourth Covid wave could peak sometime during autumn and winter. 

READ ALSO: Germany to secure 204 million Covid vaccine ‘booster’ doses for 2022

Why is this needed?

According to Spahn, getting a third (or, in the case of Johnson & Johnson, second) jab is a “precautionary measure” that could offer additional immune protection for the people who most need it.

In the case of each of the Covid vaccines, the immunity built up during the first and second jabs can decline over time, so an additional dose could act as a top-up to increase protection once again.

This is particularly important for those groups who may already have slightly weaker immune systems, like older age groups, and people who’ve had organ transplants or cancer treatment.

According to the minister’s resolution, recent studies have shown that the decline in immune protection “applies in particular to the group of relevant immunocompromised patients as well as to very old people and those in need of care”.

Immune protection from vaccines is believed to decline more rapidly in the elderly and immune-compromised. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

At present, the Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) hasn’t yet issued a firm recommendation in favour of booster jabs, citing insufficient evidence about the benefits.

However, there have been some initial studies that suggest that mixing and matching an mRNA vaccine (such as Pfizer or Moderna) with a viral vector one (such as AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson) can produce a much stronger immune response than a viral vector vaccine by itself.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccine mix-and-match: Why is it so common in Germany – and is it safe?

The added protection could be all the more important as the weather gets cooler and infection rates start to climb. 

What are people saying?

The news has mostly been greeted positively by German politicians, many of whom see effective and widespread vaccination as a route to reopening society.

Federal Minister for Families and Children, Christine Lambrecht (SPD), describe the plans for booster jabs as a “good and far-sighted decision”.

“It’s about keeping an eye on all generations equally and acting together decisively,” she said. 

Some immunologists have also expressed their support for the move.

Speaking to DPA, vaccines expert Lief Sander from Berlin Charité hospital said he believed that a general recommendation for an additional vaccine does could be on the horizon.

Though STIKO hasn’t yet thrown its weight behind the idea, “widespread, rapid vaccination” of the most vulnerable is a sensible move, Sander said. 

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Omicron vaccines to arrive in Germany in September, says Health Minister

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says vaccines adapted to target the Covid variant Omicron could arrive in Germany in September.

Omicron vaccines to arrive in Germany in September, says Health Minister

During a press conference on Friday, Lauterbach said that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would approve the adapted vaccine for the BA1 subvariant of Omicron as early as September 1st. That means the vaccine could be delivered to Germany in early September.

Later in the month, European authorities will deal with the vaccine for the BA5 subvariant, which could then be delivered to Germany at the end of September. 

This means that the vaccines should be available just in time for the new Infection Protection Act, which is scheduled to come into force in Germany on October 1st.

Lauterbach said the government’s vaccination campaign for the Omicron booster shots is being prepared and will start “promptly”.

“The federal government has procured both vaccines in sufficient quantities,” he said. “We will therefore be supplied relatively early.”

The initial aim will be for risk groups to get the jab, if they haven’t had one recently. Health officials in Germany have been pushing for risk groups, such as older people, to get a fourth vaccination as soon as possible, rather than wait for the adapted vaccines.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Can I get a second booster jab in Germany?

Lauterbach recently told German media that others in Germany – such as those who have “a lot of contacts” should consider getting a second booster shot in some cases. That could apply to people who work in bars, for instance. Lauterbach recommended that these people talk to their family doctor. 

The general rule is that doctors do not have to vaccinate someone against Covid-19 if there is no official recommendation to do so. However, anyone can get the jab – free of charge – if they discuss it and agree with their doctor. 

The Local has asked for extra clarification from the Health Ministry on who should get an adapted vaccine when they arrive. 

Debate over mask rules for autumn

The Health Minister also talked about the planned new Covid protection laws and defended the proposals. They are set to be voted on and will come into force from October 1st.

Under the plans masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to keep measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport in place.

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

States will also have the choice to introduce compulsory masks in venues such as restaurants and bars – but there will be exemptions to wearing a mask for people who have recently been vaccinated (those jabbed in the previous three months), recovered or tested against Covid. 

Lauterbach said he believed that all states would introduce these extra restrictions because numbers would rise in autumn. 

Earlier this week some politicians said the exception to the mask rule did not make sense.

But Lauterbach said it would be safer if there were more freshly-vaccinated, recovered or tested people sitting in a restaurant than simply issuing a general mask requirement – because masks are removed when sitting down. 

The Health Minister also said that he didn’t think this would mean people would try to get vaccinated regularly just so they didn’t have to wear a mask. 

“It is not the case that vaccinations are given every three months,” Lauterbach said. He said the period of time for this exception could also change in future depending on research. 

Lauterbach said there are plans for the digital proof of vaccination or recovery on the Corona Warn app to be colour-coded to make it easier for venue bosses to check proof quickly. 

The Health Minister also said public facilities in Germany had managed to check 3G measures in the past. In previous Covid waves, people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a test to enter a venue, which is known as the 3G rules.

Commenting on the current situation, Lauterbach said there was a “favourable development” as Germany appears to be getting over the summer Covid wave. 

“The summer wave is now slowly starting to recede,” the SPD politician said. 

READ ALSO: Germany has passed peak of Covid summer wave, says RKI 

The number of Covid deaths are also going down, but is not yet “where we would like it to be”, Lauterbach said. And he warned that when there are more indoor contacts due to the cooler weather in autumn, as well as schools going back, the situation could change again.