Lauterbach said that he would recommend that young people who want to avoid getting sick in the summer should “get vaccinated of course based on a consultation with their doctor.”
Receiving a fourth vaccination would permit “a completely different level of safety,” he told Spiegel magazine, explaining that another booster would reduce the risk of infection in the coming months as well as limiting the risk of suffering from long Covid.
Germany’s vaccine commission, the Stiko, currently only recommends a fourth vaccination for people over the age of 70, as well as vulnerable groups such as people living in care homes and their carers.
Most German GPs are believed to rely on the Stiko recommendation for the advice they give to patients.
Lauterbach said though that the Stiko recommendation was “only a general one”, adding that people over the age of 60 should “under no circumstances” wait until a new vaccination that protects specifically against the Omicron variant becomes available.
Lauterbach’s proposal came in on Friday for immediate criticism from several leading virologists, as well as the head of the Stiko.
Stiko boss Thomas Mertens told Welt newspaper that he didn’t know what evidence Lauterbach was relying upon to contradict the recommendation of his own body.
Mertens said that young people were well protected by the currently recommended three injections, adding that “we can’t vaccinate the whole population every year.”
Virologist Alexander Kekulé said that “when the Minister of Health makes his own recommendations that deviate from those of the Stiko, he is gambling away the trust of the population.”
“That there would no longer be a risk of contracting Covid after the fourth vaccination is grossly incorrect,” he added.
In its weekly report on the Covid situation in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute stated on Thursday that the level of infection had “hit a plateau,” with case numbers similar to what they were a week ago.
However further increases in serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are to be expected, the report continued.
Most recently, the RKI recorded an increase in outbreaks in nursing homes and homes for the elderly. Outbreaks with at least one new case were reported from 235 of these facilities last week, up from 192 the previous week.
The number of patients requiring treatment in an intensive care unit with a Covid-19 diagnosis also increased. According to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, the number of intensive care patients stood at 1,243 on Thursday – up from 1,047 in the previous week.
Severe courses of the disease continue to particularly affect older people aged 80 and older, according to RKI data.
For every 100,000 residents, about 25 in the over 80 age group were hospitalized with a severe respiratory infection and Covid-19 last week. Across all age groups, that figure was 3.7 – the equivalent of about 3,100 new hospital admissions a week, he said.
For the past calendar week, the agency calculated between 800,000 and 1.3 million Sars-CoV-2 infected people with symptoms of acute respiratory illness.
The RKI still advises people to avoid social contact if they display symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as a cold, sore throat or cough, regardless of vaccination status and rapid test results.