Boosters could be needed for 2G venues, says German Health Minister

With early signs suggesting that a booster jab offers better protection against Omicron, Germany's new Health Minister has hinted that future '2G' venues could be solely for people who have had an additional jab in the future.

Karl Lauterbach
Karl Lauterbach (SPD) arrives at the official handover ceremony to take over the role of Health Minister from his predecessor Jens Spahn (CDU). Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Reuters/Pool | Hannibal Hanschke

“Vaccination is only complete when you have been vaccinated three times,” Karl Lauterbach told ZDF on Wednesday.

Referring to a new study that suggested that an extra shot is required to fully protect against the newly discovered Omicron variant, Lauterbach said the results were “not surprising”. 

He emphasised that it was “highly likely” that a full course of jabs would protect against severe courses of the disease, but that an extra dose was needed to help protect against illness in the first place.

Since the new ‘supervariant’ was discovered at a genome sequencing lab in South Africa, around 18 countries have found cases of the new variant. It has caused widespread concern in the medical community due to the unusually high number of mutations it has, which experts say could give it the ability to bypass vaccine protection and spread more rapidly. 

Over the past few weeks, the manufacturers of Covid vaccines have been racing to determine whether their products offer protection against the new variant. 

In preliminary results to their study that were published on Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech revealed that a booster generated around the same level of potent antibodies against Omicron as is seen after a second dose with the initial strain.

But they warned that “the Omicron variant is probably not sufficiently neutralised after two doses.”

READ ALSO: Five challenges facing Germany’s new government

Only four confirmed cases have been found in Germany, though there have been at least eight other suspected cases – and some say there could be as many as a few hundred undetected cases

If the variant starts to spread as rapidly (or more so) than Delta did in summer, the government may therefore be forced to change its definition of fully vaccinated to exclude those without boosters, Lauterbach said.

“If we actually had the Omicron wave here in Germany, then the requirements for ‘2G’ (entry only for vaccinated and recovered people) would only be reached when you have the third vaccination,” he explained.

‘As many boosters as possible’

The Harvard-educated doctor was named as the country’s new Health Minister on Tuesday – a day before Germany’s new government was officially sworn in. 

As an outspoken commentator during the pandemic, he has amassed thousands of followers of Twitter – many of whom called for his appointment as Health Minister under the hastag #wirwollenkarl (We want Karl). 

Much is still unclear about what he intends to do in the role, though early signs suggest his focus will be on vaccination and evidence-based measures – which could include tough curbs on travel and everyday life. 

On Wednesday, he told reporters his aim was to “bring infections down so much by Christmas that we are able to recommend travel”. 

His entry into the Ministry of Health comes as Germany’s booster jab campaign is picking up pace. On Wednesday, doctors delivered 991,608 booster jabs – setting a new record for the amount of top-up doses given out in a day. 

“We have to administer as many booster vaccinations as possible,” Lauterbach told ZDF, adding that additional jabs would be the best preparation for an Omicron wave “if it were to come”.

Vaccination is the first pillar of protection “that we have in our hands,” he said. 

He has also spoken out in favour of mandatory vaccinations and is expected to vote in favour of the measure in parliament later this month.


Member comments

    1. Yes, a little optimistic 🙂
      And as for 2G becoming only for people with the booster, I got my 1st & 2nd jabs as soon as I was “allowed” to on the priority list. Still means if they keep to the six months rule, earliest I can get the booster is end of January. So I did everything required & suddenly I’ll be treated the same as unvaccinated idiots? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

      1. Maybe they could set the expiration date for the vaccine pass to 7 months to give those who have so far been compliant a reasonable opportunity to get a booster. Otherwise they will lose the good will of many people who are trying to do the right thing.

      2. Some Hausarzt are willing to innoculate you afte 5 months. And now it is even recommended to have the 3rd jab after 3 months.

        1. I haven’t seen anything about it being recommended after 3 months – can you post a link to where you saw this?

          1. The recommendation is from EMA. I saw it in a corona news blog which says:
            Booster-Impfung laut EMA schon nach drei Monaten möglich

            Booster-Impfungen gegen Covid-19 könnten nach Einschätzung der Europäischen Arzneimittelbehörde EMA auch schon nach drei Monaten erfolgen. Ungeachtet der geltenden Empfehlungen, die Auffrischung nach sechs Monaten zu verabreichen, “sprechen die derzeit verfügbaren Daten für eine sichere und wirksame Auffrischungsdosis bereits drei Monate nach Abschluss der Grundimmunisierung”, sagte der EMA-Direktor für Impfstrategie Marco Cavaleri am Donnerstag bei einer Pressekonferenz der Behörde in Amsterdam. Ein so kurzer Abstand wäre möglich, wenn dies “unter dem Gesichtspunkt der öffentlichen Gesundheit wünschenswert ist”.

        2. Thank you for the quote. That’s very interesting .
          Ein so kurzer Abstand wäre möglich, wenn dies “unter dem Gesichtspunkt der öffentlichen Gesundheit wünschenswert ist”. I’d say that it’s desirable! 🙂

          Ok let’s see if Herr Lauterbach is not all mouth & trousers, & allows for three month boosters. Now would be the time!

        3. Why not have a jab every week?

          Then you can be sure that you have done “everything possible”………………

  1. Why did they shut down the vaccination centres? How stupid? Germany simply doesn’t give the option of a fast lane vaccination to people that do want to take the jabs. Calling a “Hausartzt” you get the first appointment in March or April and it’s only mid December. The only other alternative is to queue up every few days out in the cold rainy/snowy weather at a mobile vaccination centre.

    What Germany should do instead is to reopen the vaccination centres and allow all citizens to make an online appointment. The vaccination centres should be kept up and running for as long as the pandemic is going. It’s completly idiotic from the strongest economy of the EU to cut corners in closing down vaccination centres during such an emmergency.

    The same that EU did with the vaccine orders in the first place where instead of ordering vaccines from every single manufacturer for the whole of the EU poppulation in order to be sure that Europe would be first out of the pandemic, they just bagained for a few cents per dose and the result was that no vaccines manufacturer placed EU in the priority list for deliveries. It’s just common sense that if you buy cheap, you also get cheap service.

    1. I agree totally. Yes, get those centres open instead of the “Dentists & Vets can do it as well” B.S. – Those people are busy already doing their usual job.. Cmon German Beaurocracy, get a grip!

    2. They reopened the vaccination center in Mainz where I live. All the Americans on bases, like me, have been getting boosters and they’ve finished vaccinating the 5-11 age group as well. If you’ve met an American in Germany, and they are here with NATO and they are over 5 years old, then chances are they’ve been vaccinated.

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation