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COVID-19 VACCINES

Berlin throws all-night party to drum up Covid vaccine tempo

As the pace of vaccination slows in the capital, one Berlin vaccination centre is turning to Berlin's famous nightlife to encourage people to get their shot.

Berlin throws all-night party to drum up Covid vaccine tempo
A DJ plays at the 'Long Night of Vaccination' at Arena Berlin on August 9th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP POOL | John Macdougall

It’s a typical Berlin scene: a long line of sharply dressed people waiting round the corner to get into a club.

The thud of music from inside the venue, strict entry controls and the chance of waking up with a headache the morning after are all familiar, too.

Only, on a rainy evening in the east Berlin neighbourhood of Alt-Treptow, the draw isn’t just dance music but vaccines as well.

The German capital renowned for its clubbing scene is throwing three vaccination parties this week, giving patrons jabs to the sound of electronic music.

The site is Arena club — which had been transformed into one of Berlin’s five main vaccination centres over the last year, after it, like other similar venues, was forced shut to curb coronavirus transmission.

READ ALSO: Techno, Testing and Tanzverbot: What it’s like to go to Berlin’s clubs under Covid rules

After delivering well over a million jabs a day at its peak, Germany is now seeing the take-up for inoculation against the coronavirus slow dramatically, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute for disease control and prevention.

In a bid to incentivise more to take the jab, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday agreed with regional leaders to end free Covid tests from October 11th.

In the Arena club, the scene is like a high-school disco with very limited dancing. Patients who have just had their vaccines sit spaced out on chairs under strobing lights, while one of the DJs — some of them well known figures of Berlin’s underground and some who have volunteered in the vaccination centre itself — works away on a set of turntables.

Some are in full party gear, others in their regular clothes.

The idea to combine dance music and vaccines was hatched by Markus Nisch, the Arena vaccination centre manager for the German Red Cross.


People wait to register at the Long Night of Vaccinations at Arena Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP POOL | John Macdougall

“We had relatively low expectations at the start,” he says.

“But the queue goes all the way down there,” he adds, pointing to dozens of social-distanced people waiting in line.

In all, about 420 people were vaccinated against the coronavirus at the Arena centre on Monday, the Berlin ministry for health said.

The word was spread on social media. “I found it on Instagram, people were posting it widely,” says Olga Kapuskina, 27, who recently moved to the city. “It’s a Berlin experience to get vaccinated at a party.”

Beyond techno

As of Tuesday, 52 million people in Germany — or 62.5 percent of the population — have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reaching the remaining 37.5 percent of the population — many of them younger — is a key challenge for officials.

Just vaccinating older citizens won’t be enough, Dilek Kalayci, Berlin’s minister for health, says outside the Arena centre. “We need to reach younger people now and to motivate them, convince them to get themselves vaccinated.”

READ ALSO:

Compulsory vaccination is unlikely to be introduced. Instead, officials are resorting to more ingenious means to get doses distributed. Berlin has been offering vaccines at Ikea, as well as organising the three nights’ festivities at Arena.

In the town of Aue-Bad Schelma, in Saxony — where just 52.9 percent of people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, the lowest rate amongst Germany’s states, locals were offered a free bratwurst sausage with every dose.


A Magdeburg fan gets a Covid jab at the MDCC Arena ahead of a football match. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Gercke

Campaigns have been run at football stadia, too, giving fans an easy opportunity to get the vaccine.

The effort at the vaccine party appears to be attracting first-timers.

“This is my first dose of the vaccine,” says Oriane Dosda, 23, who works in customer service. “I was a bit nervous but I said to myself eventually I’ll just have to get it done.”

The convenience is as much of a draw as the line-up. Patrons can turn up at the centre without an appointment or the need for any documentation.

“I had difficulty getting an appointment but here it’s easily organised,” says Claudio Keil, 26, a language teacher in Berlin. “I’m mostly here for the vaccination, the music is just a nice extra.”

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COVID-19 VACCINES

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.

READ ALSO:

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”. 

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