German vaccination campaign falters as Novavax fails to convince sceptics

Despite high hopes that the new Novavax vaccine would be more appealing to vaccination sceptics, Germany is still carrying out just a few thousand initial jabs per day.

Vaccination centre
A single woman waits in an otherwise empty vaccination centre in Potsdam, Brandenburg, on March 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

A new Covid vaccine designed to convince the unvaccinated appears to have fallen at the first hurdle as doctors in Germany report a disappointing take up for the product.

When the first 1.4 million doses of Novavax were delivered to Germany in February, it was hoped that the more “classical” method of developing the vaccine would ease the concern of people who were suspicious of the mRNA and vector vaccines currently on the market. 

READ ALSO: First batches of Novavax vaccine to arrive in Germany

But less than four weeks later, the latest statistics reveal that just 40,000 people throughout the country have opted to get inoculated with the new vaccine.

In the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, where more than 26 percent of the population are still unvaccinated, just 4,000 people have received a dose of Novavax so far, leaving around 196,000 doses so far unused. 

According to a recent report by Tagesschau, one vaccination clinic in Stuttgart is only administering around 50 doses of the new vaccine per day. 

In Saxony, around 2,400 people have had their first shot of vaccine with Novavax and just under 700 have had two doses. Saxony has the largest proportion of unvaccinated people in the country, with around 35 percent of the state’s population still unvaccinated. 

Novavax is a so-called protein vaccine which contains coronavirus-like particles which stimulate the immune system to produce defence antibodies and T-cells against Covid-19, and is therefore considered a more traditional type of vaccine, similar to the flu jab.

It is also said to have fewer short-term side effects than other types of Covid vaccines.

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

An estimated four million doses of the vaccine were delivered in the first quarter of the year, with around 30 million more doses due to be delivered between April and June. 

With polls suggesting that unvaccinated people had a widespread distrust in new vaccine technologies such as mRNA, there were hopes that this ‘inactive’ vaccine would be enough to turn the tide. 

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has claimed that similar types of disinformation around Novavax are circulating on the internet in vaccine-sceptic circles.

This could be dissuading many from opting to get the jab.

Vaccination campaign falters

The poor take-up for Novavax comes as the Covid vaccination campaign stalls across the country.

The number of doses of vaccine issued daily has declined rapidly since mid-January 2022, when the government’s booster campaign reached its peak.

On Sunday, just 9,000 vaccine doses were administered in the whole of Germany, 5,000 of which were booster jabs. Of the remaining 4,000, half were first doses and half were second doses.

With the increasingly low take-up, the government could decide to close many of the remaining state vaccination centres.

However, the head of the Covid-19 Crisis Team, Major General Carsten Breuer, has spoken out against this course of action. 

Speaking to DPA on Monday, Breuer said that the basic prerequisite for further necessary vaccinations is that the infrastructure is in place, “from the logistics to the needle in the upper arm”.

“We must now consider whether we can really close vaccination centres and if so, how quickly we can then start them up again,” he added.

He said it must be clarified to what extent doctors in private practice could then take over vaccinations and what would be covered by the public health service.

“The goal must be that if necessary, and I am thinking of worst-case scenarios, we can vaccinate the entire population, i.e. all those willing to be vaccinated in Germany, within the shortest possible time,” said Breuer.

The news comes ahead of a key parliamentary vote on whether to introduce a general vaccine mandate, which is set to take place in April.

However, with two different visions for the mandate and one bill rejecting it competing in the Bundestag, there are concerns that no one group will be able to secure a majority. 

As of Monday, 75.8 percent of the German population was fully vaccinated against Covid, while 58.2 percent had also received a booster jab. 

READ ALSO: German parliament to vote on general vaccine mandate in April

Member comments

  1. “We must now consider whether we can really close vaccination centres and if so, how quickly we can then start them up again,
    “The goal must be that if necessary, and I am thinking of worst-case scenarios, we can vaccinate the entire population” why is that needed? what are they planning?

    Did none of the big wigs stop to think that maybe the people who haven’t been vaccinated have weighed up the options in their own mmind. they possibly have made a personal risk assessment?

    Or, do they think the unvaccinated so thick that they believe everything a spotty kid on youtube says?

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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