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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: How and why to get the flu jab in Germany in 2021

Germany is urging many people to get vaccinated against influenza in order to protect the healthcare system, and because immunity may be lower among the population due to Covid measures. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How and why to get the flu jab in Germany in 2021
Health Minister Jens Spahn gets vaccinated against the flu. Photo: dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“Please get vaccinated against the flu,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told Germans earlier this month, saying that the government had bought “more than enough” doses of the flu vaccine.

Germany has ordered 27 million doses of this year’s flu vaccine. Last year doctors shot some 22 million doses of the vaccine into people’s arms – a significantly higher number than in previous years.

“We want to achieve that kind of number again,” Spahn said.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, also urged people to get vaccinated against the flu in addition to their Covid-19 jab.

“If there are a lot of Covid-19 and a lot of flu cases at the same time, it puts a massive strain on hospitals,” Wieler said.

READ ALSO: German doctors warn of surge in common colds

Weakened immunity

The measures imposed by governments around the world to slow the spread of coronavirus have also had an impact on influenza infections.

Cases of flu were very rare in Germany last winter, a fact that virologists say is due to mask wearing and other hygiene rules.

But a lack of contact with influenza means that immunity has been weakened.

Ulrike Protzer, Professor of Virology at the Technical University of Munich, told broadcaster ARD that children now lack the natural defence system they would otherwise have built up over the past two years.

There have already been unusually high cases of the common cold this autumn, something that appears to be down to weakened immunity.

“If we stop wearing masks now, all these cold viruses and the flu will start to come back in December,” Protzer warned.

READ ALSO:

Virologists in Switzerland have advised a different approach to tackling the flu.

In September, Andreas Widmer, head of the Swiss Centre for the Protection against Infection, said that mask wearing rules should end for people vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to help them rebuild immunity against other airborne infections.

“It would make sense if only a mask recommendation rather than a mask requirement applied to vaccinated people in stores and train stations or even in offices,” he told a Swiss newspaper.

What is the flu, and how does it differ from the common cold?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. 

The symptoms of the two diseases are often very similar, but symptoms of the flu will usually appear rapidly and all at once, while a common cold will develop more gradually.

Common flu symptoms include fatigue, a high fever, cough, sore throat, and aches and pains.

Some of these symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus. You should contact your doctor, your local hotline or the non-emergency number 116 117 if you are unsure if it coronavirus and they can advise you on the next steps.

Who should get vaccinated against the flu?

The Standing Committee on Vaccination at the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has published a list of population groups particularly at risk of suffering from complications if they contract the flu.

The ‘at-risk’ groups for whom vaccination is strongly recommended are as follows:

  • Those above the age of 60
  • All pregnant women in their 2nd or 3rd trimester, as well as women in their 1st trimester who are particularly at risk of illness-related complications
  • People with chronic respiratory illnesses, heart or circulation problems, liver or kidney problems, diabetes or other metabolic diseases, chronic neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or immune diseases. 
  • Those living in care homes
  • Those living with (or in regular close contact with) people in the above risk groups
  • Those working in high-risk professions such as medicine, or in settings where they find themselves in regular contact with the public

Those in direct contact with poultry and wild birds should also get vaccinated. While the vaccine does not protect against bird flu, it prevents possibly dangerous cases of infection with both types of flu. 

Adults under 60, teenagers and children may wish to consider vaccination if they find themselves in regular contact with those in at-risk groups, but the cost may not be covered by their health insurance.

People should contact their GP to get the flu jab. 

Where can I get vaccinated in Germany?

Vaccinations can be carried out by your local Hausarzt (general practitioner), and should be covered by your insurance if you belong to a risk group. Simply visit the practice with your health insurance card to get vaccinated. If you are not sure if you qualify for a free flu jab, call your doctor up to ask.

Many other specialist medical practices (such as pediatric or gynecological) also offer walk-in services.

Some employers will also offer a free vaccination service for their employees to ensure they remain fit enough to work, but this is not always the case. 

READ ALSO: Who can get a Covid booster shot in Germany?

When should I get vaccinated?

The immunity offered by the vaccination only lasts for around six months, and it takes around two weeks after vaccination for the body to build up immunity to the virus.

Therefore, the RKI suggests that October and November are the best months to ensure maximum protection throughout the seasonal flu wave, which usually peaks between December and March/April.

SEE ALSO: Can my boss in Germany sack me if I’m not vaccinated against Covid?

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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