FOR MEMBERS

How easy is it to get a Covid booster jab in Germany?

Mobile vaccination bus in Bavaria
People stand in line for Covid jabs in a mobile vaccination bus in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe
Germany's Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) has issued a general recommendation for over 18s to get Covid booster jabs - and some could be administered even earlier than six months after the last dose. Here's what you need to know.

What’s going on?

On Thursday, the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) – a panel of experts charged with coming up with recommendations on vaccinations in Germany – recommended that all over-18s receive an additional Covid vaccine shot, otherwise known as a booster jab.

While these extra doses have generally been administered six months or more after the last vaccine dose, STIKO advised doctors to be flexible when deciding on the appropriate gap between doses.

“As a rule, the booster vaccinations should take place at an interval of six months from the last vaccine dose,” they wrote in their recommendation. “A shortening of the vaccination interval to five months can be considered in individual cases, or if sufficient capacity is available.”

The draft recommendation has been sent to state leaders and experts for review, with a final version likely to emerge in the coming weeks.

Does this change anything? 

Previously, STIKO had primarily advised those with weak immune systems, over-70s, people in medical and care professions, and people who had been given the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine to get an additional booster shot.

The Federal Health Ministry has generally taken the same line, additionally calling on people who had been given two shots of AstraZeneca to get an extra jab. 

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

In most cases, people have been told to wait at least six months after their last shot before getting a booster. The only exceptions have been for people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and those with weak immunity, who are able to get the extra dose after just four weeks. 

Beyond the official recommendations, however, there haven’t been strict rules around who’s able to get the third shot. A few weeks ago, acting Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) told RBB Inforadio that it was possible for everyone to get their third shot after waiting at least six months.

“Everyone who gets a top-up jab, who discusses that with their doctor, they’re also doing something to ensure that we come through winter safely,” he said. Spahn was photographed getting his own booster shot at the end of October. 

Shortly afterwards, the 16 state health ministers issued advice for all adults to book a booster jab. 

READ ALSO: 

In this context, STIKO’s new recommendation essentially acts as a clinical stamp of approval for all adults to get boosters. This could mean that GPs feel more comfortable offering the extra doses to people who may not have existing vulnerabilities, or that people who were undecided about whether they needed a booster shot will now feel encouraged to do so.  

Where can I get one?

Over the past few weeks, a number of states have started to reopen the large vaccination centres that had been put on standby over the summer in order to cope with a growing demand for the booster jabs. 

In Saxony-Anhalt, for instance, ministers announced on Tuesday that the first centralised vaccination centres were gearing up to reopen this month, while in Rhineland-Palatinate, a number of centres in cities like Mainz and Koblenz will be brought back into action on November 24th. In Bavaria, where many large centres remained open after the summer, some are now attempting to expand their capacity to cope with rising demand.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, plans are underway to open a new vaccination centre in the east of the city. Over summer, both the Treptow/Köpenick vaccination centre and the Velodrom in Pankow closed their doors, leaving only Messe ICC and Tegel, which are both located in the west. In addition to the new centre in Karlshorst, the vaccination service in the Lichtenberg ‘Ring Center’ will be expanded to provide a better offering for people located in eastern districts of the city.  

Tegel vaccination centre
Patients are screened at Tegel Vaccination Centre in Berlin before getting their shots. A number of states are reopening large vaccination centres to cope with demand. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls for vaccine centres to reopen as Covid numbers surge

In a number of states, however, governments are primarily relying on GPs and mobile vaccination teams to carry out the additional vaccines. In North-Rhine Westphalia – Germany’s most populous state – there are currently no plans to reopen the major vaccination centres in order to offer swift appointments. 

Instead, people will be expected to book an appointment with their family or company doctor, track down a pop-up team or keep an ear out for special vaccination drives that could be happening in their neighbourhood. 

How soon can I get one?

That depends on a number of factors. The first is how long ago you had your last dose of Covid vaccine, as in general there should be a six month wait between jabs. (As we mentioned, the two exceptions are people with weakened immunity and those who’ve had Johnson & Johnson.) 

The second factor is what state, city or municipality you live in – since vaccination capacities and demand seems to vary significantly across different regions. 

Over the past few weeks, more and more people have been opting to get a top-up jab, meaning both vaccination centres and doctors’ surgeries are feeling the pressure. On Thursday, government data revealed that more than half a million shots of Covid vaccine had been administered within a day – the vast majority of which were top-up jabs.  

READ ALSO: How Germany’s booster jab campaign compares to other countries

Writing to state leaders ahead of crunch talks between the federal and regional governments on Thursday, Dr. Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association, called on politicians to set out a “clear roadmap” for an unbureaucratic and manageable vaccination campaign this winter. 

With surgeries overwhelmed with demand, the doctors’ association wants governments to use other methods to support GPs in rolling out the jabs, such as reactivating existing vaccination centres and creating pop-up vaccination clinics.

Vaccination drive in Hamburg library
People wait for a Covid jab in Hamburg Central Library during a local vaccination drive. States are being encouraged to find different ways to roll out the booster jabs. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Doctors are also warning people that they shouldn’t expect to be able to get a booster shot right away – even if they’re technically eligible for one. Despite politicians’ claims that everybody would be in line for a shot, it “will not be possible to fulfil the expectations of citizens for vaccinations at short notice”, explained Mark Barjenbruch, a board member of the Lower Saxony Doctors’ Association, on Thursday. He called on people to “keep calm and not insist on ad hoc appointments in practices” as soon as their six month interval was up.

Some vaccination centres are also seeing demand rise as appointments are snapped up fast, so people who want a top-up may currently have to be patient – particularly if they don’t fall into one of the more vulnerable groups. 

What are politicians doing? 

After the meeting between the federal and state governments on Thursday, acting Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that officials were aiming to draw up clear plans on how to cope with the demand for millions of booster vaccinations over the winter months.

As of Friday, around 4.8 million people had received an extra jab – and Merkel believes that a further 27 million need to be issued as a matter of urgency. 

To achieve this, the federal states must continue to expand their vaccination capabilities, while physicians in private practice and company doctors should also be called into actions.

According to Merkel, the Federal Agency for Technical Relief and the Civil Protection Agency have also offered their support in the next phase of the vaccination drive. 

How does it work?

As with the initial course of Covid shots, the onus is currently on the individual to seek out, book and receive their booster jabs this winter. Generally, it’s worth either contacting your GP directly to enquire about appointments, looking on online portals like Doctolib or heading to the official websites of large vaccination centres in your state.

However, doctors are currently pushing local governments to take more responsibility for reaching out to people to invite them for an additional dose. 

Rheinhardt said municipalities should set up centralised appointment booking services to ease the pressure on practices and also write to vulnerable groups to invite them for a booster jab at the right time. 

That means it could be worth keeping an eye out for any new initiatives to simplify the booking process in your area – but if you don’t hear anything, you may have to take the initiative yourself. 

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


Member comments

  1. Ah, the good old NRW at it again – most populous state, but don’t want to open up the vaccination centers and rather leave it to the already overloaded G.P.’s. New Leader, same old B.S.

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.