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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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