German health minister defends caps on Pfizer vaccine orders

Covid vaccination in Spandau, Berlin
Dr Gabriele Loi carries out a vaccination using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Spandau, Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen
German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) appeared in a press conference on Monday to defend his decision to limit orders of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to 30 per week for doctors' surgeries.

In a recent letter to the heads of the federal states, the Ministry of Health told regional governments that orders of the BioNTech vaccine would be limited in the coming weeks. Instead, doctors will be asked to used Moderna much more frequently for booster vaccinations.

“I can’t withdraw the decision because it’s simply a question of the quantity available,” Spahn had told ZDF on Sunday evening. “We’re not holding anything back there. I can’t deliver a vaccine from BioNTech that isn’t there.”

After a slow start to the booster jab campaign in Germany, demand for additional jabs has spiked significantly over the past two weeks.

“We will deliver six million BioNTech doses from tomorrow alone”, Spahn explained.

Due to this massive demand, “our BioNTech stocks are running empty right now,” he said. “And it is simply the case that at the moment – that is, from the week after next, I’ll have no more than two to three million BioNTech vaccine doses available per week.”

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He admitted: “We should have communicated that more clearly.”

But he said there was a good, equally effective alternative in the form of the Moderna vaccine, which GPs will be able to order unlimited stocks of over the coming months.

“So, the crucial message is: there is enough vaccine,” Spahn emphasised.

On Thursday, Germany’s Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) issued a recommendation for everyone over the age of 18 to get a booster of one of the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna. 

With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine accounting for more than 90 percent of vaccine orders, politicians are concerned that the Moderna doses will be in danger of expiring before they are able to be used.

30 doses per week 

From next week, practices will be able to order a maximum of 30 doses of BioNTech per week, while vaccination centres and mobile vaccination teams will be entitled to 1,020 doses.

With the new caps, the Ministry of Health believes there will be enough vaccine for everyone to have an additional shot. Over the next month or so, Germany will be able to dispense a total of about 24 million doses of BioNTech and 26 million of Moderna.

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

However, the federal states and doctors were sharply critical of the move to limit orders, which they say could slow the progress of Germany’s booster jab campaign. 

According to the FDP’s spokesperson for health policy, Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus, Spahn “has done himself and the vaccination campaign no favours with his announcement”.

FDP health spokesperson Christine Aschenberg-Dugnu
FDP health spokesperson Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus speaks in the Bundestag. Spahn has “done himself no favours” by limiting vaccine orders, Aschenberg-Dugnus has claimed. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

“We don’t need a new discussion about vaccines, we need to vaccinate as much as possible,” she told German daily Die Welt on Monday. “Doctors will now have additional work due to the chaos that has been caused, which is time that would be better spent on carrying out vaccinations.”

Saarland’s Prime Minister Tobias Hans (CDU), meanwhile, said Spahn had sent the “completely wrong signal” with his announcement.

Speaking on the ARD talk show Anne Will, Hans said that it was a huge problem “when we are currently pooling all our resources into the vaccination campaign” that the most popular vaccine in Germany was limited in its availability.

The federal government should now do everything in its power to make sure they have enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the coming months, he added. 


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