“We don’t have enough vaccine doses,” Lauterbach revealed in a bombshell interview on German broadcaster ARD’s Tagessthemen. “That’s surprised a lot of people – including me.”
The SPD politician had revealed that he was planning to do an audit of the available vaccine doses shortly after taking up the role of Health Minister last week.
The review revealed that the amount of vaccine ordered by the previous administration would cover the 30 million doses the government plans to issue by January.
However, shortages could force the vaccination drive to grind to a halt between January and March, when the lack of orders and reserve doses could hit GPs and state-run vaccination centres.
According to the Health Minister, just 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be available for booster jabs from January – a mere sixth of the amount that will be needed.
Lauterbach said he was already working on a solution and hoped to be able to convey a positive message in the coming days.
“This is going through all the channels that are available, we can’t leave anything out here. I’m also using the channels we have directly to the companies, but everything has to work in conformity with the EU,” the minister explained.
“We have to gain speed here, so I have been on the move on several levels since the weekend.”
Responding to the news of the shortfall, Andrew Gassen, the head of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, said it sent a “catastrophic signal” to those who had been fighting the pandemic with full commitment.
“In Germany, we have just reached record speed in vaccinating in the practices, and now this comes,” he told Bild.
It’s hard to explain to people how a country that developed one of the vaccines could fail to secure enough of it, he added.
Speaking to DPA on Wednesday, Klaus Reinhardt, the president of the German Medical Association, said he was “speechless”.
“When you hear that, your mouth just hangs open,” he said.
SPD health expert Lauterbach has recently taken over the role of Health Minister from the CDU’s Jens Spahn, who repeatedly claimed in his last months in office that Germany had more than enough vaccine doses for everyone.
“The booster campaign won’t fail on account of vaccine doses,” Spahn said in his final press conference as Health Minister on Friday, December 3rd.
Speaking to broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday, SPD Labour Minister Hubertus Heil blamed the former Health Minister for the severe shortage of vaccine doses.
The news that there was too little vaccine available for next year was “severely irritating”, he said, adding that the previous administration had clearly not been honest with people.
Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) appears at the introduction of new government ministers nominated by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Heil described the news of the vaccine shortages as “highly irritating”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
“Now we will have to clear the air,” Heil said.
The news comes as Germany’s booster campaign continues to pick up pace.
As of Wednesday, almost 70 percent of the population were fully vaccinated, while more than a quarter (26 percent) of the population had received a booster jab.
Last week, doctors administered a record-breaking 6.4 million shots of vaccine, of which 5.5 million were booster shots.
“Nobody in Europe is rolling out boosters as fast as we are,” Lauterbach said on Tuesday.