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COVID-19 VACCINES

Reader question: Can under-5s get vaccinated against Covid in Germany?

Vaccines for children aged six months to five-years-old are currently being rolled out in the United States. But can very young children also get a Covid jab in Germany?

young girl Covid jab Germany
A young girl gets a Covid jab in Dresden, Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

At the moment, only children aged five and above can get vaccinated against Covid-19 in Germany.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of a reduced dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine for children between the ages of five and 12, and this age group are able to get vaccinated by doctors at practices or at dedicated vaccine centres.

Back in May, Germany’s Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) issued a general Covid jab recommendation for 5-12 year olds. Previously, they had only recommended the shots to children with pre-existing conditions or vulnerable contacts.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for all children over five

Of course, some parents are keen to get their younger children vaccinated as well – and news from the US, where both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech has recently been approved for children under five, has given them hope that the same will happen in Germany.

So what exactly is going on?

Well, at the moment, there does seem to be some movement in that direction, but things are still up in the air. 

Back in April, Moderna announced that it had submitted a request to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for a variation to the conditional marketing authorisation.

In plain English, this means they want permission to roll out a 25mg dose of their vaccine (as part of a two-dose series) for children aged six months to five years. This is the same dosage that is being used to vaccinate toddlers and babies in the US. 

In response to a question from The Local, Pfizer/BioNTech said it was also planning to file for authorisation for the under-fives vaccine from the EMA in early July. 

Depending on the EMA’s decision, this could pave the way for very young children to get the Covid jab in Germany.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the authorities will be recommending that all parents rush out and vaccinate their young’uns. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group back in March, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) struck a cautious tone when talking about vaccines for under fives.

“In the studies, the vaccines have not shown the immunisation effect in young children that we had hoped for. But it is precisely in this age group that the effect must be particularly clearly proven,” he said.

“It is therefore unclear at the moment whether there will be a vaccination recommendation for under-fives in Germany.”

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

For its part, the EMA said it was in talks with Pfizer ahead of the submission of its application for approval.

“To date, no application for an extension of indication for the use of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) in children under five has been submitted to EMA,” a spokesperson for the EMA told The Local.

“However, EMA is in contact with the company about the possible submission of data and we will communicate on our website should we receive a request for an extension of indication.”

At the time of writing, the German Health Ministry and Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had not responded to a request for comment. 

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ENERGY

Reader question: Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

With Germany fearing a potential gas shortage and rising bills, residents may be wondering what options are out there to upgrade or change their heating system - or if they have to.

Reader question: Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Do property owners have to part with their gas and oil heating systems?

Not necessarily, but boilers which were installed before 1992 – or are more than 30 years old – can no longer be in operation according to the Building Energy Act (Gebäudeenergiegesetz, GEG) and – usually – have to be replaced with more efficient systems.

This applies to heating systems with a so-called constant-temperature boiler and a rated output of four to 400 kilowatts (kW). The temperature of these boilers is consistently high and can only be adjusted to a limited extent.

READ ALSO: Gas bills to double for millions of German households

This makes them more inefficient than, for example, condensing boilers, which consume less gas.

If you’re a tenant in Germany and have any concerns, you should contact your landlord to ask them about the boiler. 

Are there exceptions?

Condensing boilers or low-temperature boilers are not affected. 

There can also be exceptions for systems that are only for hot water, as well for some long-time home owners.

However, even if there is no obligation, it might still be worth looking into replacing an older system, or asking your landlord to.

Can new oil and gas heating systems still be installed?

In the coalition agreement, the government had stipulated that from 2025 onwards, all newly installed heating systems would have to be operated with a minimum share of 65 percent renewable energies. The coalition now want to bring this deadline forward to January 2024.

The concept paper presented in July is to be discussed by the end of the month. The installation of new pure oil or gas heating systems would then not be allowed from 2024 onwards, but this does not amount to a complete ban on these systems.

Heating systems that have already been installed can continue to be operated in 2024, unless they are older heating systems that have to be replaced. By 2045, however, all heating systems should be completely converted to renewables. About half of all homes in Germany are currently still heated with gas.

A person turns the radiator on

A person turns the radiator on. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

What grants are available for the replacement of old heating systems?

Until recently, the installation of new gas hybrid and gas condensing heating systems (renewable-ready heating systems) was subsidised by up to 40 percent. From August 15th, however, this will come to an end: subsidies for all gas-fired heating systems will be discontinued.

Who do I have to contact to apply for subsidy?

Homeowners can apply for the funds at the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA). Applicants can check the processing status on the website. The government subsidies are grouped under Bundesförderung für effiziente Gebäude (Federal Subsidy for Efficient Buildings), or BEG for short.

READ ALSO: How much extra will German households pay under new gas surcharge?

What other regulations will come into force on August 15th?

The state will continue to provide financial support to owners who want to replace their old heating systems with more climate-friendly alternatives. However, the subsidy rates will drop significantly by between five and 10 percent from mid-August.

For solar collector systems, there will only be a 25 percent subsidy rate instead of the previous 30 percent.

Previously, the maximum subsidy rate for the installation of a heat pump was 50 percent, but from mid-August it will shrink to 40 percent with an upper limit of €60,000 per residential unit.

A new heating-exchange bonus of 10 percent has also been decided on. This is paid on top of the subsidy rate, and means owners can receive a kind of ‘special bonus’ for switching to resource-saving heating alternatives. A prerequisite for the bonus when replacing gas heating systems is that they must be more than 20 years old. According to the Economic Ministry, older systems are a particular focus of the measures because they consume a lot of energy.

READ ALSO: Should I install in an electric heater in Germany this winter?

Why have measures been adjusted?

The German government justifies the changes by saying that the dependence on Russian gas and oil needs to be reduced. Consuming less energy is the cheapest and most efficient contribution to more independence and better climate protection, the Economic Ministry says.

Incentives are essential, but they’ve been reduced for economic reasons in order to be able to make the subsidies available to more people, says the government.

“In future, the individual will get a little less in subsidies than before, but many people will be able to benefit from the subsidy programmes. This is appropriate in times of high energy costs,” said Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) recently.

“The vast majority of people live in older houses. Renovating now, replacing windows, throwing out the gas heating – that helps to save costs.”

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