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COVID-19

German vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for pregnant women

The German Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) has officially published a recommendation in favour of Covid vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

German vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for pregnant women
A midwife conducts a check-up of a pregnant woman in Essen on April 4th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Caroline Seidel

The independent body that advises the German government now recommends vaccination for pregnant women from the second trimester of pregnancy, and for breastfeeding women with two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

The decision was made “after detailed consultation and evaluation of the available evidence”, the Robert Koch Institute said.

After STIKO spoke out in favour of the change on September 10th, the recommendation was reviewed by the federal states and experts involved and published by the RKI on September 17th.

Up until this point, Germany’s vaccines commission has been reluctant to issue an outright recommendation for Covid vaccination for this group, citing insufficient evidence. 

However, Stiko has previously said that cases where pregnant women have been vaccinated by accident – for example, because they do not know they are expecting – are “not a cause for termination of pregnancy”.

Despite the lack of a general recommendation, some pregnant women in Germany have been given the vaccine after an individual consultation with their doctor – though it has often been a pot-luck scenario. 

In a statement issued on Friday, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) welcomed the news.

“Pregnant and breastfeeding women now also have a clear recommendation for vaccination,” he said. “After many months with many unanswered questions, this finally means scientifically based certainty.”

READ ALSO: Are more babies being born in Germany amid the pandemic?

With vaccination rates stalling across the country, he also made an urgent appeal to pregnant and breastfeeding women to get their jabs.

“Ask your doctor. Get vaccinated,” he said. “You will protect yourself and your child.”

‘Vaccination is safe’

Virologists and health experts also responded positively to the developments.

Writing on Twitter, Lief Erik Sander, an infectious diseases and respiratory medicine physician at Berlin Charite hospital, described the recommendation as “good news”, adding that there was good evidence of the “high level of safety” of vaccinations.

“In spite of this, vaccination coverage remains too low,” he said. “We must do more.”

Doctors have been able to vaccinate pregnant women against Covid in the past, but the STIKO recommendation previously only included pregnant women with pre-existing conditions and a resulting high risk of severe Covid, or with an increased risk of infection due to their circumstances.

Frustrations over delay

In a survey conducted by The Local in June, some respondents complained that they were unable to decide for themselves whether they wanted to get their Covid shots during pregnancy due to the lack of a general recommendation.

“As a pregnant woman, I do not have the right to make my own decision and cannot even register for a vaccination,” said Julie Pardy, 38, from Hamburg. “Saying that vaccination is available to all persons over age 12 is incorrect as long as pregnant women are mostly excluded and dependent on doctors who refuse us.”

Anecdotally, other pregnant and breastfeeding woman have been able to get the vaccination, but until now much has depended on the views of the individual doctor. 

As an independent body, STIKO is tasked with making vaccination recommendations and looking at the benefits of various vaccines for both the individual and the entire population in Germany. In order to decide on an official recommendation, virologists evaluate international data and reputable scientific studies.

According to STIKO’s website, once a recommendation is made, it is considered the national medical standard.

Vocabulary

to speak out in favour of – aussprechen für 

breastfeeding women – (die) Stillende

second trimester – (das) zweite Schwangerschaftsdrittel 

to appeal – appellieren 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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