German government hits 30 million Covid jab target

Germany has reached an ambitious target to administer 30 million Covid vaccinations between the middle of November and end of December - though debates continue over how to convince the undecided.

Covid vaccination
People queue for a Covid vaccination at the HDI Arena, home of FC Hannover 96, on December 22nd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

With Covid vaccinations continuing over the Christmas holidays, the government was able to achieve its 30-million jab goal, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) announced on Sunday. 

However, the majority of vaccines administered were so-called booster doses, meaning that a large number of people still have no vaccine protection at all. 

According to the Robert Koch Institute’s vaccination dashboard, 21.7 million people in Germany are still unvaccinated – equating to 26.2 percent of the population. Of these, four million people (around 4.8 percent of the population) are aged 0 to 4 years. Currently, there is no approved vaccine for this age group. 

German states started vaccinating children aged five and over in the second week of December. 

READ ALSO: State by state: Where children in Germany can get vaccinated against Covid

Around 147 million vaccination doses have been administered since the vaccination campaign officially began on December 27th, 2020. As of Monday, 70.8 percent of the population were fully vaccinated, and 36 percent of the population has received an additional booster jab. Boosters are considered vital for rebuffing the highly infectious Omicron variant.  

A debate is still raging over how to win over the segment of the population who continue to be hesitant about receiving a Covid jab. The government initially said it would aim to give 80 percent of the population at least one jab by January 7th, but this deadline has now been pushed back to the end of January.

READ ALSO: Germany pushes back 80 percent vaccination target

The traffic light coalition government – consisting of the SDP, Greens and FDP – is considering introducing a general vaccine mandate, with a parliamentary debate on the issue likely to take place in January.

As a first step towards compulsory jabs, the government has already passed a law to make vaccination mandatory for employees in clinics or nursing homes. By March 15th 2022, all employees in these sectors must prove that they have been fully vaccinated or produce a letter explaining that they are unable to get inoculated for medical reasons.

Ethical questions

In a recommendation published on Wednesday, the German Ethics Council came out in favour of extending the recently adopted compulsory vaccination for staff in healthcare institutions to “significant sections of the population”. But there are questions over whether this could contradict the right to bodily autonomy enshrined in Germany’s constitution. 

On Monday morning, the newly elected leader of the CDU, Friedrich Merz, suggested a step-by-step plan to include other groups in a compulsory vaccination.

In Merz’s view, a general vaccination obligation raises a number of ethical, constitutional and organisational questions that must be clarified before a decision is made.

“Perhaps a kind of graduated plan for group-related vaccination obligations could also lead to the goal,” he told RND.

This would include, for example, employees in schools, day-care centres and universities, but also police, fire brigade and aid organisations.

“Such a duty could be imposed on them because they have made a commitment to serve this country from the very beginning of their employment,” the CDU politician emphasised.

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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.”