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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What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

With Covid cases rising, many people in Germany are wondering if they should get a fourth Covid jab - or second booster. Here's what you should keep in mind.

What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

German states have started giving out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant.

Though the Omicron variant is believed to cause milder courses of illness than earlier variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and is often able to evade the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. 

Who should get the fourth Covid shot (second booster)?

People who belong to ‘at risk’ groups should think about getting a booster shot this autumn.

The official recommendation from the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) stipulates that people over the age of 60 should get a further booster vaccination.

In addition, people over the age of 12 who have an underlying condition that can lead to severe illness with Covid-19 should also get a shot.

Experts also recommend that residents and staff in nursing homes or long-term care facilities receive a fourth jab.

READ ALSO: When – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

In STIKO’s latest guidance dated September 20th, experts also say that it may be appropriate for people at particular risk, for instance the very elderly or people with immunodeficiency, to get another shot (a fifth jab) after the fourth vaccination, although that would depend on several factors and a medical consultation. 

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Should people under the age of 60 get a fourth jab?

If people don’t fall into a risk group and are under the age of 60, they can still receive a fourth vaccination, although it’s not officially recommended. You should have a consultation with your GP – or a doctor carrying out Covid vaccinations – if you are interested in getting the fourth jab. 

How do vaccination centres handle people under 60 who want to get another Covid shot?

There have been occasional reports in Germany that younger people who don’t belong to a risk group have been turned away from vaccination centres because they don’t qualify for a booster jab. 

However, The Local has anecdotally heard that people have been able to get a jab from a vaccination station or centre, regardless of their health condition or age.

A spokesperson at the health department of the city Munich told broadcaster BR24 that carrying out a fourth vaccination is decided on a case-by-case basis and is a decision taken by the medical expert giving out the jab “in each case”.

Where is the fourth vaccination available? 

There are still lots of walk-in vaccination centres across the country, while many doctors and pharmacies also carry out jabs. You should search online or contact your GP for more information. 

Many towns and cities are reporting a significant increase in demand since the new vaccines adapted for Omicron variants became available.

READ ALSO: Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

How many people in Germany have been vaccinated?

According to official figures, 76.3 percent of the German population has received two Covid jabs. Just over 62 percent have also received a booster jab, and 9.9 percent have been given a second booster vaccination.

Around 18.4 million people (22.2 percent) in Germany are not vaccinated. For four million of these people aged 0 to four years (4.8 percent), no licensed vaccine is available.

Does getting the flu vaccination help against Covid?

Coronaviruses and the flu are different viruses, so the flu jab cannot protect against Covid-19. However, those who have a weaker immune system can strengthen their body in fighting a virus by getting a flu shot, according to experts. The immune system can then better use resources it saves against a possible Covid infection.

The fourth Covid jab and the flu shot can be administered to patients at the same time, according to the STIKO – although they don’t have to be.

If this is the case, the injections are given in different arms. However, it could be the case that patients have a stronger reaction if both jabs are carried out at the same time, so keep that in mind. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?