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COVID-19

Celebrate Christmas with ‘closest circle’ says head of German health agency

The President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler has urged people in Germany to cut down on social contact at Christmas to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, left, and RKI head Lothar Wieler after Thursday's press conference.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, left, and RKI head Lothar Wieler after Thursday's press conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Speaking during a press conference with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, Wieler, called for Christmas to be celebrated with a small group of close family and friends. 

“We all want to spend the holidays with family and friends, yes – but we all also have to work together to ensure that Christmas does not become a kick-start for Omicron,” he said.

He urged people in Germany to spend the festive season in a way that would “not be a celebration for the virus”.

“Really only spend this time in the smallest, closest circle of friends and family,” he said.

When meeting people from at-risk groups, Wieler recommended doing a Covid test even if fully vaccinated.

Wieler said although cases have been dropping in Germany in recent days, that many intensive care units were still struggling.

He said it was now about limiting the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 so clinics can get some relief before numbers rise again, which might result in more people needing hospital treatment. 

In Germany, several hundred Omicron cases have been reported so far, Wieler said.

Health Minister Lauterbach told the press conference that he was watching the situation in the UK closely.

According to the BBC, the latest data suggests about a quarter of cases are Omicron. This would mean around 20,000 of Wednesday’s reported 79,000 cases in the UK could be attributed to the new variant.

It became the dominant variant in London on Wednesday. 

Britain is reporting “very worrying figures”, said Lauterbach, adding that it was important to keep the spread of the variant in Germany as slow as possible.  

READ ALSO:

Vaccine shortage 

Lauterbach said Germany’s strategy was to continually get more booster shots into arms in a bid to offer people more protection against Omicron.

He said the government was working to make sure sufficient vaccines were available, after he revealed earlier this week there would be a shortage in January. He said there were set to be 20 million too few vaccine doses in the first quarter.

Lauterbach said the shortage would mean the top-up vaccine campaign would not be completed until the end of March, which was “not sufficient for our booster strategy”.

He said that 50 million booster vaccine doses had been ordered for the first quarter, but that there was also a need for 20 million first and second jabs. But Lauterbach said: “This is explicitly not a criticism of my predecessor, I talked about it with Jens Spahn (the former Health Minister) last night.”

READ ALSO: German Health Minister warns of vaccine shortages ‘from January’

The Minister confirmed that the EU Commission had agreed to early deliveries of 35 million doses of Moderna. He said he was also in talks with Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Portugal to procure more doses. 

On Wednesday Germany reported a record 1.496 million vaccinations in a day, 1.3 million of which were boosters. As of Thursday, 70 percent of the population was fully vaccinated. 

On Thursday there were 56,677 Covid infections in Germany in the last 24 hours, and 522 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence was 340.1 infections per 100,000 people. 

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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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