Germany’s vaccination rate row is ‘irrelevant’, says top virologist

Leading coronavirus researcher Christian Drosten has dismissed the anger that erupted after German health authorities admitted their vaccine figures were probably too low.

Christian Drosten, head of virology at Charite Hospital in Berlin
Christian Drosten, head of virology at Charite Hospital in Berlin. Photo: dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“That is essentially just a slapstick comedy what has happened there,” Drosten said in reference to the anger that followed the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) publishing a survey that indicated several million more Germans have been vaccinated than shows up in official figures.

Drosten said on his fortnightly Coronavirus-Update podcast on public broadcaster NDR that the anger was “completely unnecessary.”

The head of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital said that the higher vaccine rate among adults was “irrelevant” since what is important is achieving immunity in the population as a whole.

The higher numbers were too small to make a significant difference to overall immunity, while the survey results themselves could also be inaccurate, he said.

Last week the RKI said they believe the real number of vaccinations carried out in Germany is up to five percentage points higher than the official reporting data shows. Five percentage points in the adult population corresponds roughly to 3.5 million people.

READ ALSO: What does Germany’s higher vaccination rate mean for winter?

According to official reports from vaccination centres and GPs, just under 76 percent of adults have been fully jabbed.

While Health Minister Jens Spahn described the survey results as “really good news” that shows Germany is “more prepared for the winter,” the news was met with hefty criticism from opposition politicians and other health professionals.

“On the basis of apparently false and insufficient data, serious decisions are being made for millions of people and fundamental rights are being restricted,” Gerald Gaß, head of the German Hospital Federation told Welt newspaper. 

Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus of the Free Democrats told Bild newspaper that the RKI was “too close to the government” saying that “we want to make the agency political independent in the future”.

Green politician Dieter Janecek said that other countries “don’t have such problems with recording the vaccination rate. Germany is once again out of its depth.”

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid vaccination rate higher than official stats, says RKI

Flatlining case number

Meanwhile the trend of stagnating case numbers in Germany persists. On Wednesday morning the RKI said that 11,900 news cases had been reported in the past 24 hours.

The 7-day incidence of cases remained at slightly over 65 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. This value, which for much of the pandemic was the measure used for bringing in new restrictions, has been steady in the mid-60s since the start of October.

A further 92 deaths in connection with a Covid-19 infection were also reported.

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What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

With Covid cases rising, many people in Germany are wondering if they should get a fourth Covid jab - or second booster. Here's what you should keep in mind.

What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

German states have started giving out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant.

Though the Omicron variant is believed to cause milder courses of illness than earlier variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and is often able to evade the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. 

Who should get the fourth Covid shot (second booster)?

People who belong to ‘at risk’ groups should think about getting a booster shot this autumn.

The official recommendation from the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) stipulates that people over the age of 60 should get a further booster vaccination.

In addition, people over the age of 12 who have an underlying condition that can lead to severe illness with Covid-19 should also get a shot.

Experts also recommend that residents and staff in nursing homes or long-term care facilities receive a fourth jab.

READ ALSO: When – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

In STIKO’s latest guidance dated September 20th, experts also say that it may be appropriate for people at particular risk, for instance the very elderly or people with immunodeficiency, to get another shot (a fifth jab) after the fourth vaccination, although that would depend on several factors and a medical consultation. 

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Should people under the age of 60 get a fourth jab?

If people don’t fall into a risk group and are under the age of 60, they can still receive a fourth vaccination, although it’s not officially recommended. You should have a consultation with your GP – or a doctor carrying out Covid vaccinations – if you are interested in getting the fourth jab. 

How do vaccination centres handle people under 60 who want to get another Covid shot?

There have been occasional reports in Germany that younger people who don’t belong to a risk group have been turned away from vaccination centres because they don’t qualify for a booster jab. 

However, The Local has anecdotally heard that people have been able to get a jab from a vaccination station or centre, regardless of their health condition or age.

A spokesperson at the health department of the city Munich told broadcaster BR24 that carrying out a fourth vaccination is decided on a case-by-case basis and is a decision taken by the medical expert giving out the jab “in each case”.

Where is the fourth vaccination available? 

There are still lots of walk-in vaccination centres across the country, while many doctors and pharmacies also carry out jabs. You should search online or contact your GP for more information. 

Many towns and cities are reporting a significant increase in demand since the new vaccines adapted for Omicron variants became available.

READ ALSO: Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

How many people in Germany have been vaccinated?

According to official figures, 76.3 percent of the German population has received two Covid jabs. Just over 62 percent have also received a booster jab, and 9.9 percent have been given a second booster vaccination.

Around 18.4 million people (22.2 percent) in Germany are not vaccinated. For four million of these people aged 0 to four years (4.8 percent), no licensed vaccine is available.

Does getting the flu vaccination help against Covid?

Coronaviruses and the flu are different viruses, so the flu jab cannot protect against Covid-19. However, those who have a weaker immune system can strengthen their body in fighting a virus by getting a flu shot, according to experts. The immune system can then better use resources it saves against a possible Covid infection.

The fourth Covid jab and the flu shot can be administered to patients at the same time, according to the STIKO – although they don’t have to be.

If this is the case, the injections are given in different arms. However, it could be the case that patients have a stronger reaction if both jabs are carried out at the same time, so keep that in mind. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?