Explained: How to get vaccinated against the flu in Germany in 2020

The arrival of the colder weather will see the start of the annual flu season in Germany. This handy guide aims to answer all your flu-related questions, and explain how best to protect yourself this winter.

Explained: How to get vaccinated against the flu in Germany in 2020
The federal government is pushing for more people to get vaccinated against the flu this year. Photo: DPA

The German government has ordered over 26 million vaccine doses for the upcoming flu season, more than ever before. 

With cases of Covid-19 expected to rise rapidly over the winter months, it is hoped that widespread flu vaccination will play a vital role in keeping increasingly-important hospital beds free.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged as many Germans as possible to book a flu-jab appointment, stressing that vaccination is more important than ever this year to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

What is the flu, and how does it differ from the common cold?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. 

The symptoms of the two diseases are often very similar, but symptoms of the flu will usually appear rapidly and all at once, whilst a common cold will develop more gradually. 

Common flu symptoms include fatigue, a high fever, cough, sore throat, and aches and pains.

Some of these symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus. You should contact your doctor, your local hotline or the non-emergency number 116 117 if you are unsure if it coronavirus and they can advise you on the  next steps.

READ ALSO: More tests to flu shots: How Germany plans to improve its coronavirus response


Those suffering from colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than a high fever, and will usually experience less intense versions of the other symptoms mentioned above. 

Whilst most cold sufferers recover within a few days, the flu is often harder to overcome and is more likely to lead to serious complications.

Who should get vaccinated against the flu?

The Standing Committee on Vaccination at the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has published a list of population groups particularly at risk of suffering from complications if they contract the flu.

The ‘at-risk’ groups for whom vaccination is strongly recommended are as follows:

  • Those above the age of 60

  • All pregnant women in their 2nd or 3rd trimester, as well as women in their 1st trimester who are particularly at risk of illness-related complications

  • People with chronic respiratory illnesses, heart or circulation problems, liver or kidney problems, diabetes or other metabolic diseases, chronic neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or immune diseases. 

  • Those living in care homes

  • Those living with (or in regular close contact with) people in the above risk groups

  • Those working in high-risk professions such as medicine, or in settings where they find themselves in regular contact with the public

Those in direct contact with poultry and wild birds should also get vaccinated. While the vaccine does not protect against bird flu, it prevents possibly dangerous cases of infection with both types of flu. 

Adults under 60, teenagers and children may wish to consider vaccination if they find themselves in regular contact with those in at-risk groups, but the cost may not be covered by their health insurance.

Why is flu vaccination particularly important in 2020? 

While vaccination isn’t compulsory in Germany, it is strongly recommended for those in risk groups.

This year, there has been a particular push from both national health authorities and the federal government to increase vaccination rates, which have been low in recent years, causing concern.

You can receive a flu vaccination at most medical practices across Germany. Photo: DPA

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The RKI stresses that those at high-risk of flu-related complications are usually those at high risk of falling severely ill with Covid-19, especially those over the age of 60 and those suffering from chronic illnesses. 

A high vaccination rate is also essential this year to avoid a large wave of flu cases. It is hoped this will free up intensive care beds and equipment needed to treat sufferers of Covid-19, for which there is still no approved vaccine. 

Where can I get vaccinated in Germany?

Vaccinations can be carried out by your local Hausarzt (general practitioner), and should be covered by your insurance if you belong to a risk group. Simply visit the practice with your health insurance card to get vaccinated. If you are not sure if you qualify for a free flu jab, call your doctor up to ask.

Many other specialist medical practices (such as pediatric or gynecological) also offer walk-in services.

Some employers will also offer a free vaccination service for their employees to ensure they remain fit enough to work, but this is not always the case. 

When should I get vaccinated?

The immunity offered by the vaccination only lasts for around six months, and it takes around two weeks after vaccination for the body to build up immunity to the virus.

READ ALSO: We'll see more local lockdowns in Germany': Experts warn of tough measures as Covid-19 cases rise

Therefore, the RKI suggests that October and November are the best months to ensure maximum protection throughout the seasonal flu wave, which usually peaks between December and March/April.

Will there be enough flu vaccines this year?

The German Medical Association has expressed concern that an increased demand for flu vaccines will lead to a shortage in supply. 

Some regions in Germany have already reported long waiting lists, but Health Minister Spahn stressed that vaccines will be available for everyone who needs them, if not all at once.

While he admits that not everyone will be able to access the vaccine immediately, getting vaccinated in November or December will still offer sufficient protection.

He also pointed out that between four and six million vaccine doses are disposed of every year because they have not been used, and that more vaccines are available this year than ever before. 

With reporting by Eve Bennett


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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”