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COVID-19

German Health Minister warns of vaccine shortages ‘from January’

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has revealed that the country will once again be facing shortages of vaccine doses in the new year.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach sits in the Bundestag on Wednesday, December 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“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.

READ ALSO: Karl Lauterbach to become Germany’s next Health Minister

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.”

‘Catastrophic signal’

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. 

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls for ‘massive contact restrictions’ to fight Covid

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.

Hubertus Heil
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. 

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HEALTH

When, where and how can I get the flu shot in Germany?

Seasonal flu vaccines, Covid boosters, and the monkeypox vaccine are recommended for risk groups in Germany as it gets colder. Here’s what you need to know.

When, where and how can I get the flu shot in Germany?

Flu cases are way up in Germany this year – back to over 22,000 nationwide so far, and those are just the laboratory-confirmed ones. With many Covid-19 restrictions also having slowed the spread of flu in 2020 and 2021, German doctors are particularly encouraging at-risk groups to get this year’s flu vaccine.

Who?

In principle, anyone in Germany can speak to their doctor and get the flu vaccine. However, it is recommended particularly for certain at-risk groups.

According to the German Robert Kock Institute (RKI), which advises the government on viruses, these groups include:

  • anyone over the age of 60
  • pregnant women from their second trimester
  • people with chronic underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, or various heart conditions
  • People who live or work in care homes
  • Medical personnel
  • People who work in areas with particularly high amounts of traffic. These could include schools or Kitas, for example
  • People who live with or care for someone from one of these groups

When?

Flu season’s peak is normally expected in January. That’s why doctors advise you to have your protection in place before then. So the best time to get vaccinated for the flu is between October and December.

With the vaccine taking about 10-14 days to kick in, doctors advise making sure you have the shot by mid-December, so that when the season peaks in January, your body is prepared to fight off the virus if you come in contact with it.

Where?

The easiest place to get a flu vaccine is at your doctor’s office. However, some health authorities run public vaccination campaigns, depending on your federal state. Some workplaces may also administer flu shots on site once a year.

For the first time this season though, pharmacies in Germany will be able to administer a flu shot to any adult with statutory health insurance. Check with your local pharmacy to see if they do it.

Can I get the flu shot at the same time as my Covid-19 booster shot?

In most cases, there are no restrictions on getting the flu shot and a Covid booster at the same time. Most flu vaccines given in Germany are inactivated viruses, which can be administered simultaneously with a flu shot. You don’t have to wait between getting one shot and getting the other.

If giving it you at the same time, your doctor will likely use both arms – one for each vaccine.

READ ALSO: What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

What about Monkeypox?

Germany has now seen its total number of reported monkeypox cases hit 3,656—with around half of all cases being reported in Berlin. With more and more people getting vaccinated though, the seven-day average of new infections has slowed from a peak of 71 per day in mid-July to less than one a day in October.

That’s far less than the US rate of 105 a day or even Spain at just over four a day.

The vast majority of cases worldwide and in Germany have been detected in gay and bisexual men, whom German health authorities are still advising to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.

Other risk groups include people who work in certain laboratories where they might become exposed, and people who have already potentially been exposed.

Someone who suspects they’ve been in contact with a confirmed case of monkeypox is advised to get a vaccine shot within four days.

READ ALSO: Who can get the monkeypox vaccine in Germany – and how?

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