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COVID-19 VACCINES

Children in Germany to be offered Covid vaccine ‘in 2022’

Health Minister Jens Spahn expects Germany to offer children under 12 the Covid vaccine next year.

Children in Germany to be offered Covid vaccine 'in 2022'
Children at a school in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“I assume that the approval for a vaccine for children under 12 will come in the first quarter of 2022,” Spahn told the Funke Mediengruppe newspapers, reported Spiegel. He said the move will lead to protecting “younger people even better”.

On Monday Pfizer and BioNTech said trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine is safe and produces a robust immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.

The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people over 12, they said.

“In participants aged five to 11, the vaccine was safe, well tolerated and showed robust neutralising antibody responses,” US giant Pfizer and its German partner said in a joint statement.

Spahn pointed out on Monday that there may be a slight lag between the approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and a recommendation by Germany’s vaccination panel STIKO.

“A recommendation by the Standing Commission on Vaccination will come somewhat later in this case,” Spahn said.

The EMA approved the use of BioNTech’s vaccine for children aged 12-17 in May. 

However, Germany’s vaccine panel STIKO initially hesitated on issuing a general recommendation earlier this summer to receive the Covid vaccine, instead only advising that young people with underlying illnesses get it. 

But in August the commission changed its mind after analysing new guidance and issued a general recommendation. Despite the hesitant guidance, the German government had called on young people to get their jabs anyway. 

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Delta worries

Although children are considered less at risk of severe Covid, there are concerns that the highly contagious Delta variant could lead to more serious cases.

Inoculating children is also seen as key to keeping schools open and helping end the pandemic.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to submit their data to regulatory bodies in the EU, the United States and around the world “as soon as possible”.

The trial results are the first of their kind for children under 12, with a Moderna trial for 6-11 year olds still ongoing.

Under-5s before year-end

The Pfizer vaccine received full, formal approval in the US in August and is therefore technically available to younger children if prescribed by a doctor, but US authorities have cautioned against doing this until the safety data was in.

The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said in a statement earlier this month it would “carefully” review emergency authorisation requests for vaccines for under -12s, a process it expected to take “weeks rather than months”.

Israel has already given special authorisation to vaccinate children aged 5-11 who are “at significant risk of serious illness or death” from Covid, using the Pfizer jab at the lower dosage.

Pfizer and BioNTech are also trialling their vaccine on infants aged six months to two years, and on children aged two to five.

The topline results for those trials are expected “as soon as” the fourth quarter of this year, the companies said.

All together, up to 4,500 children aged six months to 11 years have enrolled in the Pfizer-BioNTech trials in the US, Finland, Poland and Spain.

Like its Moderna rival, the Pfizer jab is based on novel mRNA technology that delivers genetic instructions to cells to build the coronavirus spike protein, in order to evoke antibodies when bodies encounter the real virus.

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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.

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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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