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COVID-19 VACCINES

Omicron vaccines to arrive in Germany in September, says Health Minister

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says vaccines adapted to target the Covid variant Omicron could arrive in Germany in September.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

During a press conference on Friday, Lauterbach said that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would approve the adapted vaccine for the BA1 subvariant of Omicron as early as September 1st. That means the vaccine could be delivered to Germany in early September.

Later in the month, European authorities will deal with the vaccine for the BA5 subvariant, which could then be delivered to Germany at the end of September. 

This means that the vaccines should be available just in time for the new Infection Protection Act, which is scheduled to come into force in Germany on October 1st.

Lauterbach said the government’s vaccination campaign for the Omicron booster shots is being prepared and will start “promptly”.

“The federal government has procured both vaccines in sufficient quantities,” he said. “We will therefore be supplied relatively early.”

The initial aim will be for risk groups to get the jab, if they haven’t had one recently. Health officials in Germany have been pushing for risk groups, such as older people, to get a fourth vaccination as soon as possible, rather than wait for the adapted vaccines.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Can I get a second booster jab in Germany?

Lauterbach recently told German media that others in Germany – such as those who have “a lot of contacts” should consider getting a second booster shot in some cases. That could apply to people who work in bars, for instance. Lauterbach recommended that these people talk to their family doctor. 

The general rule is that doctors do not have to vaccinate someone against Covid-19 if there is no official recommendation to do so. However, anyone can get the jab – free of charge – if they discuss it and agree with their doctor. 

The Local has asked for extra clarification from the Health Ministry on who should get an adapted vaccine when they arrive. 

Debate over mask rules for autumn

The Health Minister also talked about the planned new Covid protection laws and defended the proposals. They are set to be voted on and will come into force from October 1st.

Under the plans masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to keep measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport in place.

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

States will also have the choice to introduce compulsory masks in venues such as restaurants and bars – but there will be exemptions to wearing a mask for people who have recently been vaccinated (those jabbed in the previous three months), recovered or tested against Covid. 

Lauterbach said he believed that all states would introduce these extra restrictions because numbers would rise in autumn. 

Earlier this week some politicians said the exception to the mask rule did not make sense.

But Lauterbach said it would be safer if there were more freshly-vaccinated, recovered or tested people sitting in a restaurant than simply issuing a general mask requirement – because masks are removed when sitting down. 

The Health Minister also said that he didn’t think this would mean people would try to get vaccinated regularly just so they didn’t have to wear a mask. 

“It is not the case that vaccinations are given every three months,” Lauterbach said. He said the period of time for this exception could also change in future depending on research. 

Lauterbach said there are plans for the digital proof of vaccination or recovery on the Corona Warn app to be colour-coded to make it easier for venue bosses to check proof quickly. 

The Health Minister also said public facilities in Germany had managed to check 3G measures in the past. In previous Covid waves, people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a test to enter a venue, which is known as the 3G rules.

Commenting on the current situation, Lauterbach said there was a “favourable development” as Germany appears to be getting over the summer Covid wave. 

“The summer wave is now slowly starting to recede,” the SPD politician said. 

READ ALSO: Germany has passed peak of Covid summer wave, says RKI 

The number of Covid deaths are also going down, but is not yet “where we would like it to be”, Lauterbach said. And he warned that when there are more indoor contacts due to the cooler weather in autumn, as well as schools going back, the situation could change again. 

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Where – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

Three German states have started rolling out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant. Here's who's eligible to get a jab and how to go about it.

Where - and how - people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

What are the Omicron vaccines and how are they different?

In the latest phase of the Covid pandemic, the Omicron variant has been by far the most dominant variant worldwide. Though Omicron is believed to cause milder courses of illness than preceding variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and adept at evading the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.

Like their previous Covid vaccines, the latest from BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, a recently developed vaccine type that teaches our bodies to produce an immune response when exposed a molecule known as a messenger RNA. The difference is that these vaccines are what’s known as “bivalent”, meaning they contain both a component of the original strain of Covid alongside a component of the BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subtypes respectively.

READ ALSO: EU approves new dual-strain Covid vaccines in time for autumn booster campaigns

That means they’re designed to both offer protection against Covid caused by previous variants as well as the new Omicron subtypes. 

As with other Covid vaccines, the Omicron vaccines are only believed to offer greater protection from infection for a short time after getting the jab. However, studies suggest that they continue to offer good protection against severe courses of illness. 

Where are the jabs being rolled out in Germany?

So far, only a handful of northern German states are offering the new BA.4 and BA.5 vaccine, though GPs have been able to order doses of Moderna’s BA.1 vaccine for a few weeks now.

One of the first states offering the latest Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is Berlin, where both doctors’ practices and the Ring Center Vaccination Centre in Friedrichshain have been providing Omicron vaccinations since Tuesday.

A list of clinics with doses of the specially adapted vaccines can be found here (in German). Alternatively, people can head to the vaccination clinic at the Ring Center between 9am and 7:30pm daily, with or without an appointment. 

In Lower Saxony, GPs are currently able to obtain up to 240 doses of the new BA.4/BA.5 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech. Vaccination centres such as the Impfzentrum am Landtag in Hannover are also offering the new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

Around 145 mobile vaccination teams are also expected to receive doses of the new vaccine over the course of the week, meaning people who aren’t able to get a jab at their doctors’ surgery or vaccination centre yet can look out for pop-up clinics in places like shopping malls and on the high street.

In Bremen, the latest BA.4/BA.5 adapted vaccine from Pfizer has been used as the standard booster shot in a number of vaccination centres since Thursday. People who are interested in the Omicron vaccine can get it at the vaccination centre Am Brill, in the vaccination centres in Bremen-Nord, Bremen-Ost and at the centre in Bremerhaven. Mobile vaccination teams have also received doses of the new vaccine.

Due to the current high level of demand, people are being advised to book an appointment ahead of time at www.impfzentrum.bremen.de. 

Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Omicron vaccine are expected to be rolled out in other German states in the coming weeks. 

Are the new vaccines recommended for everyone?

On September 20th, Germany’s Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) updated its guidance to recommend that the latest Omicron vaccines are used when doctors are giving out booster jabs. 

That means that anyone who hasn’t had a third dose of Covid vaccine should soon be able to get an Omicron booster as standard. 

However, STIKO currently only recommends second boosters (or fourth jabs) for certain groups who are at risk of severe courses of Covid: people over the age of 60, nursing home residents, staff at care homes and hospitals and people with existing immune system deficiencies. 

For this group, the fourth dose should only be administered more than six months after the third dose, according to STIKO. This can be reduced to four months in exception circumstances.

People who don’t fall into any of these categories may still be able to get a dose of one of the newest Omicron vaccines after a consultation with their doctor. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?

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