Can ‘old-fashioned’ Novavax vaccine convince German sceptics?

Germany is expecting deliveries of some four million doses of the Novavax vaccine in the coming months. Early signs are that its tried-and-tested formula will convince some of the vaccine hesitant.

A doctor holds a Novavax vaccine in London.
A doctor holds a Novavax vaccine in London. Photo: dpa/PA Wire | Kirsty O'connor

In the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, thousands of people signed up for their first Covid shots within hours of the state opening registrations for vaccination with the Novavax vaccine.

This has led to hope that many of the millions of German adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated with the four jabs currently on offer will feel more safe with the new one.

The Novavax vaccine, the fifth Covid-19 vaccine to gain approval in the EU, is based on a technology that has successfully been used against other illnesses for years.

The vaccine is protein-based, similar to those used against flu and whooping cough, with initial trials suggesting it causes fewer short-term side effects.

Surveys show that many Germans who haven’t yet been vaccinated are hesitant about the novel technology which is used in the mRNA vaccines from BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

Rhineland-Palatinate is the first state which has opened registration for vaccination with the Novavax jab. 

According to a report in the Tagesschau, some 5,000 people in the state booked their jabs with the vaccine within hours of the registration opening. After four days, that number had risen to over 9,000.

“We don’t expect the Novavax vaccine to close the last vaccination gaps,” said Clemens Hoch, state health minister in Rhineland-Palatinate.

“Nevertheless, we are pleased if some sceptics are now willing to get the vaccination with Novavax,” he added.

The western state will start vaccinating people with the Novavax product on February 21st, by which point the first 1.4 million doses are supposed to have arrived in Germany.

The federal Health Ministry has ordered 34 million doses for 2022.

The arrival of the more traditional vaccine has led to discussions in government circles over whether to extend the date by which staff in the health care sector need to get their compulsory jabs.

Doctors, nurses and carers will have to be fully jabbed by March 15th, but a modification to the law could allow for a period of leniency for those who’ve had their first jab with the Novavax vaccine but whose second appointment comes just after the deadline.

SEE ALSO: ‘Hard to keep up’ – Your verdict on Germany’s ever-changing Covid rules

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Germany’s Scholz rules out second attempt at vaccine mandate

After an attempt to introduce an over-60s vaccine mandate was rejected in parliament, German chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has said his government will not bring the issue to a vote again.

Germany's Scholz rules out second attempt at vaccine mandate

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has rejected the idea of a second attempt to introduce mandatory Covid vaccinations.

“There is no legislative majority in the Bundestag for compulsory vaccination,” he said on Thursday evening after consultations with the leaders of the federal states in Berlin.

Expressing his regret at the lack of support for the move, he said this reality would have to be the “starting point” for any future vaccination drives. 

“I am, of course, disappointed that there was no majority today, I don’t want to hide that at all,” said Scholz. “I am still convinced that it would be right to have compulsory vaccination in Germany. With the Bundestag decision, however, a very clear statement by the legislator had now been made.”

Despite the fact that Covid-19 vaccines have been available in Germany for more than a year, around 24 percent of the population still have no vaccine protection whatsoever.

Of these, around 4-5 percent are too young to get the Covid vaccine, but around 20 percent are either against the idea or still on the fence. 

“We will do everything we can to convince even more citizens of this country to get vaccinated,” Scholz told reporters. “This will require our creativity.”

READ ALSO: Scholz gets stinging defeat in parliament with Covid jab vote

On Thursday, a bill for compulsory vaccination for everyone over the age of 60 was voted down in the Bundestag, dealing a painful blow to its supporters in the traffic-light coalition. 

The bill had been promoted primarily by SPD and Green MPs, including Scholz himself and Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD). A motion from the opposition CDU/CSU parties to introduce a vaccine register and potential target vaccine mandates was also rejected by the house. 

‘Bitter defeat’

Scholz is not alone in ruling out the possibility of reviving the vaccine mandate issue. 

Speaking to Tagesschau in Berlin, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the failure of the bill had been a “bitter defeat” that made it unlikely that any future bill on the subject would gain enough support to succeed.

“It’s a clear result that has to be lived with,” he said. “I’m sceptical about whether we can still achieve anything through additional talks.”

In a democracy, he said, this had to be respected.

But he explained that the failure of compulsory vaccination is bad news for vulnerable patients, for those who work to treat and care for Covid patients, and for all those who have to live with restrictions. A new wave of infections is likely by autumn at the latest, Lauterbach said.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister to target undecided in new Covid jab campaign