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HEALTH

Germany expects 40,000 vaccine doses for monkeypox in June

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says the first batch of vaccines against monkeypox should arrive in June.

Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference about monkeypox in Berlin on May 24th.
Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference about monkeypox in Berlin on May 24th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

In total, Germany expects to receive 240,000 vaccine doses, which have been ordered as a precaution to limit any possible spread of monkeypox. 

Lauterbach told public broadcaster ARD: “40,000 units should come in the first two weeks of June, then 200,000 units after that.”

He said that he had signed the contract for the vaccine doses, and was waiting for the company’s response. “But I expect that we will have this vaccine soon,” Lauterbach added. 

It is not yet clear who will receive the vaccinations in Germany, but a plan is being prepared.

By Friday May 27th, a total of 16 confirmed monkeypox infections had been reported to the RKI in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt. Further cases are expected. 

The Health Minister reiterated that he did not expect a new pandemic to emerge from the monkeypox virus. “I do not believe that monkeypox really poses a threat in the sense of a pandemic,” Lauterbach said during the interview with ARD on Sunday evening. “The potential is not there.”

READ ALSO: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox virus

Nevertheless, he said the spread of monkeypox has to be kept in check “We have to contain it,” he said. “We don’t want it to take hold.”

Due to the similarity of the viruses, vaccines developed to protect against smallpox also protect against monkeypox, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) says. 

Lauterbach said last week that Germany had secured “up to 40,000 doses” of a smallpox vaccine. The vaccine, called Imvanex, is also approved in the United States against monkeypox. 

Germany is recommending that anyone who suspects they have monkeypox should isolate for 21 days. They should also contact their doctor or local health authority. 

What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) that causes small lesions on the skin, headaches and fever. It’s similar to chickenpox or smallpox, though the illness tends to be less severe than smallpox.

The symptoms of the disease caused by the virus are generally mild and clear up in 2-4 weeks without treatment, but can occasionally result in more serious illness if the patient has a weaker immune system.

It can be transmitted through close contact with an infected person or animal. 

Monkeypox is endemic in several countries in West and Central Africa, which means it occurs there permanently.

Recently, however, monkeypox has also been found in more than 20 other countries – including Germany and other EU countries as well as Australia and the USA.

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, which killed millions of people every year for centuries until the disease was eradicated in 1980. However, monkeypox is considerably less dangerous. Most of those who contract monkeypox recover within a few weeks, and fatal illness is rare.

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HEALTH

‘Breaking point’: Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

Overcrowded patient rooms, days-long stays in the ER, transfer of sick babies to hospitals more than 100 kilometers away: the current wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in Germany is pushing children's hospitals to their limits. 

'Breaking point': Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

The German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi) said on Thursday that there was a “catastrophic situation” in children’s intensive care units. 

According to the physicians, a wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections can be expected every year starting in the autumn. 

Yet this year “there are fewer and fewer pediatric hospital beds available overall” as well as a lack of nursing staff, Divi Secretary General Florian Hoffmann explained Wednesday on ZDF’s Morgenmagazin.

Because all beds were full in one case, a child was transferred from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) to Magdeburg on Friday night, a distance of around 150 kilometers. 

“My colleagues had called 21 clinics,” said Gesine Hansen, Medical Director of the MHH Clinic for Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology, told DPA. 

The child, who was about one-year old, had an RSV infection, which can be life-threatening, especially for babies and children with pre-existing conditions.

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

‘Catching up’

Some health experts have said that hospitals are now filled to capacity because children had minimal social contact during the pandemic and are now catching up on infections.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), an estimated 5.6 severe cases of RSV respiratory illness occur worldwide per 1,000 children in the twelve months after birth. 

Within the first year of life, 50 to 70 percent would typically have experienced at least one infection with RSV, and by the end of the second year of life, nearly all children should have experienced at least one infection. 

In the wake of protective measures against Covid-19, however, many such infections had temporarily failed to materialise. 

‘Breaking point’

According to Divi, hardly any clinics had a free crib or free pediatric intensive care bed in the past few days.

“Children have to lie in the emergency room for days,” Hoffmann said.

Yet the peak of the current wave of respiratory infections in children has by no means been reached, Hoffmann said. “The situation in practices and clinics will get even worse in the coming weeks.”

“We are at the breaking point,” said Matthias Keller, head of the Children’s Hospital Dritter Orden Passau already. The rooms are often double-occupied, he said. In some cases, there were too few monitors and not enough equipment for respiratory support.

READ ALSO: Flu season makes a comeback in Germany

A child with RSV being treated at the Olgahospital in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

“Some patient rooms are like bed storage areas, where you really have to crawl over the beds to get to the sick child, because the parent bed is lined up with the patient bed,” said Keller, who is also chairman of the South German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

This has far-reaching consequences for other young children who need treatment. When an infant who has just been resuscitated is admitted to a children’s hospital that is actually fully occupied, a three-year-old has to wait there for the third day in a row for his urgently needed heart operation.

‘Responsibility of politicians’

A wave of infections usually lasts six to eight weeks. In Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Berlin, as well as North Rhine-Westphalia, clinics are reporting a “maximally tense situation,” reported Divi on Thursday.

The Düsseldorf University Hospital, for example, is experiencing a wave of influenza among its young patients in addition to the RSV wave, which is “causing massive problems primarily for children up to elementary school age,” said University Hospital spokesman Tobias Pott.

In the Rhineland, “all beds are completely full” at times, said Jörg Dötsch, president of the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. An ER waiting time of six to seven hours is not uncommon, he says. 

“It is very unpleasant when children and their families have to virtually camp out in the emergency room,” says Dötsch, who is also director of the Clinic for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the University Hospital in Cologne. 

READ ALSO: Healthcare in Germany: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist doctor

What are the solutions?

At their meeting on Thursday in Hamburg, intensive care physicians and intensive care nurses will discuss approaches to solving the crisis. 

One solution may be to temporarily bring nursing staff from adult facilities into the children’s hospitals, says Hoffmann, who is also a senior physician at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Munich. 

But above all, he says, many more pediatric nursing staff need to be trained. “We need to strengthen nursing,” he explained. “Only then do we have a chance.”

Others said more money needed to be invested in pediatric medicine and vaccines, even if it is less profitable.

“The fact that children’s lives are currently in danger is the responsibility of politicians,” said Jakob Maske, spokesman for the Professional Association of Pediatricians and Adolescents.

“Nowadays medicine has to be profitable – not cure diseases, but make money.”

READ ALSO: How private investors are buying up healthcare practices in Germany

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