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COVID-19

North Rhine-Westphalia to allow Covid booster jabs after four weeks

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia has become the first state in Germany to allow booster jabs for all just four weeks after the last dose.

Covid vaccination centre, Bonn
Women walk into the vaccination centre in Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Starting immediately, residents of Germany’s most populous state can book a booster after four weeks at any of the state- or district-run vaccination centres, the Siegener Zeitung reported on Tuesday

According to a health ministry spokesperson, a decree has been sent to each of the state districts to ensure that no-one is sent away from a vaccination centre simply because five months has not yet elapsed since the last vaccination. 

The move marks a distinct break with previous guidance, which has generally dictated that people wait five or six months after completing their initial vaccinations before booking a booster jab.

According to the German Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO), this can be brought forward to four weeks for those with particularly weak immune systems or those who have been given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Until now, however, the majority of people have had to wait several months before they are able to receive their top-up jab. 

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

Speaking to the Siegener Zeitung, the North Rhine-Westphalia health ministry spokesperson explained that the four-week interval was explicitly not a recommendation, but rather a lower limit. 

Experts such as the chairman of the German Society for Infectious Diseases, Bernd Salzberger, have recently urged a shortening of the interval between the second and third vaccination.

A faster booster vaccination could influence the spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants, Salzberger told the newspapers of the Funke Mediagruppe on Saturday. “The evidence from Israel shows this very convincingly,” he added. 

Boosters required for 2G? 

The state’s decision comes amid growing concern about the new Omicron variant, which is believed to be far more infectious than the highly-transmissible Delta variant. 

Recent studies by Covid vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech suggest that an initial vaccination course of two jabs (or one in the case of Johnson & Johnson) doesn’t offer sufficient protection against breakthrough infections – though it is effective at preventing severe illness. 

However, a booster jab appears to offer a much greater level of protection, they said.

According to the study, “a third dose provides a similar level of neutralising antibodies to Omicron as is observed after two doses” for other variants.

The results prompted Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to suggest that people who have only had their initial course of jabs would no longer be considered fully vaccinated. 

“Vaccination is only complete when you have been vaccinated three times,” he told ZDF.

This would have wide-reaching implications for the country’s ‘2G’ policy, under which only fully vaccinated and recovered people are allowed entry to certain public facilities.

READ ALSO:

Meanwhile, state health ministers are currently considering whether to exempt people from the testing requirement under ‘2G-plus’ if they have already had a booster jab. 

This could incentivise people to go out and get the extra shot, experts believe. 

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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