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COVID-19 VACCINES

Germany’s vaccine panel plans to recommend Covid boosters for all over 18s

The chairman of Germany’s Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) expects the panel to issue a recommendation for booster vaccinations for everyone over the age of 18 when they meet on Wednesday.

Germany's vaccine panel plans to recommend Covid boosters for all over 18s
A doctor's assistant in NRW issues a booster jab. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

Until now, STIKO has recommended booster vaccinations primarily for the over 70s and for staff in medical facilities.

But the STIKO chairman, Thomas Mertens, told the ZDF Talkshow on Tuesday evening that he expects the Commission to issue a recommendation for booster vaccinations against the coronavirus from everyone over the age of 18 when they meet on Wednesday.

The German government already recommends booster jabs to everyone over 18 in Germany. Those at risk, such as the over 60s, people who live in care homes and medical staff and carers, are particularly urged to get a top-up injection.

The general advice has been to get a Covid jab six months after the last dose. However, for those who have had the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the government advises to get it four weeks after the single-shot vaccine. 

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has also told doctors in Germany that everyone over the age of 18 should be able to get a booster vaccination against Covid-19, even before six months have elapsed since their last shot.

In a letter from Spahn and the chairman of the Federal Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians to all contract physicians in Germany, the six month interval was said to be a “temporal guideline, which of course cannot be adhered to on a daily basis.”

Pressure has been growing on STIKO to give the go ahead for issuing booster shots to patients due the increasing number of so-called ‘vaccination breakthroughs’ – vaccinated patients who get Covid-19, which is likely due to waning immunity.

According to the German Hospitals Association (DKG) the number of unvaccinated patients in intensive care has fallen from 90 percent in September 2021 to 74 percent at the beginning of November.

However, experts say that getting vaccinated against Covid significantly reduces the risk of developing a severe course of the disease. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany’s booster campaign has failed to take off

Criticism of the plans 

The expected recommendation has provoked criticism from some physicians’ representatives and patient advocates.

The Chairman of Family Doctors’ Association, Ulrich Weigeldt, told the Funke Mediengruppe that “for less vulnerable, younger healthy people, it is not necessary, according to current medical knowledge, to carry out a booster vaccination after six months to the day…it must be taken into account that this would possibly take place at the expense of vulnerable patients”.

Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the German Patient Protection Foundation, expressed similar views and warned against a “vaccination rush” on doctors’ offices, predicting that they would not be able to cope if they were suddenly required to issue millions of booster vaccinations.

“Now, with a tight vaccination supply and few vaccination sites, it’s up to the State Premiers’ Conference to ensure an orderly booster process,” he said.

German state leaders and the federal government are to meet on Thursday to discuss the current Covid crisis.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel advises against Moderna jab for under 30s

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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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