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COVID-19 VACCINES

Germany’s vaccine panel recommends Covid jab for everyone over 12

Germany's vaccine advisory board had held off on recommending the Covid jab to 12-17-year-olds. But they did a U-turn on Monday after analysing new research.

Germany's vaccine panel recommends Covid jab for everyone over 12
Lollipops are handed out at Bremen's vaccination centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

The Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) announced that it is now recommending the Covid-19 vaccine for everyone aged 12 and above, reported Spiegel on Monday.

The advisory board to the German government said the U-turn had been made due to an evaluation of new scientific observations and data that showed young people face a high risk of getting Covid due to the more transmissible Delta variant. 

Researchers came to the conclusion that “based on current knowledge, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risk of very rare vaccine side effects”.

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

Teenagers who didn’t fall into those categories were able to get vaccinated in Germany if they consulted with their parents and doctors. But the cautious advice slowed the take-up among younger people. 

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 24.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have had at least one Covid jab, and 15.1 percent are fully vaccinated.

German politicians had been pushing STIKO to issue a blanket recommendation to all children over 12. Earlier in August health ministers decided to go against STIKO’s guidance and offer the vaccine widely to everyone over 12. 

READ ALSO: Germany opens vaccine centres for teenagers: What you need to know

What’s changed?

STIKO had said there was insufficient data on possible vaccine side effects on younger age groups. Plus, 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.

However, new research has shed more light on the issues. STIKO also based their decision on mathematical modelling that showed children were at significantly higher risk of infection by the Delta variant.

“Based on new surveillance data, particularly from the US vaccination programme with nearly 10 million vaccinated children and adolescents, potential risks of vaccination for this age group can now be quantified and assessed more reliably,” STIKO said.

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In very rare individual cases, heart muscle inflammation occurred after vaccination with an mRNA vaccine, particularly in young men, said STIKO. 

In the majority of the rare cases, the patients were hospitalised but the issue was resolved. “Conversely, recent studies from abroad indicate that cardiac involvement does also occur with Covid-19 disease,” STIKO’s statement said.

“In addition, no signals of other serious adverse events have occurred after mRNA vaccination, particularly in children and adolescents.”

STIKO said that long Covid was also considered in their new evaluation. 

“It remains uncertain whether and how frequently long Covid occurs in children and adolescents,” said STIKO.

STIKO recommends that vaccines for all young people should continue to include a consultation with a doctor. In its statement, STIKO opposed making vaccination a prerequisite for social participation among children and adolescents.

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.

Vaccinations for children and adolescents have been the subject of controversy for weeks in Germany, as this age group goes back to school.

Some experts had argued that children were completely exposed to the Delta variant due to being unvaccinated. 

Health expert Karl Lauterbach welcomed the move from STIKO. 

Several countries already vaccinate children and adolescents 12 and older, including the US and Israel. No Covid vaccine has yet been approved for those under 12.

But BioNTech/Pfizer is testing its vaccine in this age group. It is expected that approval will be sought from the US authorities before the end of this year. It’s possible that a vaccine could then be available for very young children in early 2022.

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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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