Fourth Covid jab likely needed against Omicron, says German Health Minister

Germany's Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday he expects the Omicron wave to hit Germany at the start of 2022 - and believes a further jab on top of the booster is likely to be needed.

A sign to get vaccinated without an appointment in Wilhelmshaven.
A sign for a vaccination without appointment in Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

Speaking to German broadcaster WDR 2, Lauterbach said he expected Germany to follow the same trend of countries like the UK – which saw more than 100,000 daily Covid infections in the 24 hours up to Wednesday morning.

“We don’t have a large, fast wave yet,” said Lauterbach. “That will change at the turn of the year and in the first week of January.”

In a three-hour radio programme, the 58-year-old from Cologne answered questions from listeners on the topics of Covid-19 and vaccinations.

Lauterbach, a trained epidemiologist, said he believes a further jab is likely to be needed after the booster shot.

“Personally, I would assume a fourth vaccination (is needed),” he said, but added that this has not yet been scientifically proven.

On Wednesday, Lauterbach said Germany has ordered 80 million doses of Omicron-specific vaccine for delivery in April or May.

READ ALSO: Omicron likely to become dominant in Germany ‘within three weeks’

But he stressed that the best thing to do right now is to get a booster jab.

“What we know for sure is that we need a booster vaccination,” he told WDR 2.

Booster vaccinations could prevent “70 to 80 percent of symptomatic cases of the disease”, the minister said.

Lauterbach said he could not yet answer the frequently asked question of whether extra jabs would always be needed in future.

“We cannot yet say anything about the vaccination routine,” he said.

He said it also impossible to predict what the pandemic situation will be like in a year’s time.

“Nobody knows,” he said. “That would be looking into a crystal ball. But I assume that new variants will emerge. No one can say whether they will become more dangerous.”

Regardless, one has to keep “flexibility” and constantly adapt the measures to the developments and new medical findings, said Lauterbach.

‘Celebrate Christmas in small group’

Lauterbach said he is now looking forward to Christmas with his family. In view of the current workload as Health Minister, the politician admitted that family time has been “far too short” lately.

He is not planning a big party for Christmas or New Year’s Eve: “I will celebrate in a very small group. Less than five people. I will have a contemplative celebration and that is what I advise everyone to do,” he said, a day before Christmas Eve.

READ ALSO: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

On Thursday Germany saw 44,927 Covid cases and 425 deaths within the latest 24 hour period. The 7-day incidence was 280.3 infections per 100,000 people. Experts warn that reporting figures may not be up to date due to the holidays. 

It came as a UK study found that the risk of any attendance at hospital was 20 percent to 25 percent lower with the Omicron variant of Covid compared to Delta, and 40-45 percent lower when the visit resulted in admission for at least one night.

A separate, initial analysis of Omicron cases in Scotland suggested an even greater reduction in the risk of hospitalisation compared with Delta.

Scientists from the Eave II study said the risk of hospitalisation may be 70 percent lower with Omicron than Delta.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”