Why is there a delay in German family doctors vaccinating against Covid-19?

Why is there a delay in German family doctors vaccinating against Covid-19?
A teacher being vaccinated in Hanover at a centre. Photo: DPA
Health Minister Jens Spahn says vaccinations on a larger scale in doctors' surgeries won't happen in Germany until mid-April. As calls grow to speed up the sluggish rollout of jabs, why can't GPs start immediately?

Other European countries, including France and the UK, have already started carrying out vaccinations at family doctors.

However, in Germany GPs will likely not start giving jabs to residents until mid-April.

Why? Health Minister Spahn says it’s down to there not being enough Covid-19 vaccine doses. The country is expecting more vaccines to be delivered in April.

Spahn said he expects deliveries of the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which was approved in the EU on Thursday, in mid-April at the earliest. This means that there are now four vaccines against Covid-19 approved in the EU.

EXPLAINED:

Where are vaccinations taking place in Germany?

Vaccinations are still happening at special centres across Germany. Some injections are also taking place at mobile units travelling to elderly people who can’t leave their homes.

However, family doctors say that they should have a bigger role in the programme – and that vaccine doses should be transferred to them now.

According to a recommendation by the federal and state health ministers, vaccinations in practices should start “as early as possible”, and no later than the week of April 19th.

Available vaccines will continue to go first to the existing regional vaccination centres of the states, the government and states decided.

But CDU health expert Erwin Rüddel (CDU) criticised this move. He told German daily Bild: “We must now vaccinate in every way that is possible. That only works in conjunction with the doctors’ practices.”

President of the German GP Association Ulrich Weigeldt said doctors could start vaccinating “immediately” if more doses were diverted to practices.

“You should work off the vaccination appointments still booked there now, but in parallel, the field of vaccinations must finally be left to the doctors in private practice,” Weigeldt told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

READ MORE: How GP surgeries will speed up Covid-19 vaccinations from April

Are there really not enough vaccines to be given to doctors?

Spahn told broadcaster ARD on Thursday that doctors in surgeries should and must start vaccinating soon, but that there had to be enough quantities of vaccine.

If every doctor only got five or 10 doses a week, he said, there would be legitimate questions about how doctors should prioritise their patients.

“We need a certain minimum quantity at which it makes sense,” he said. At some point in May, June or July there would be about 10 million vaccinations a week in practices, Spahn promised. “That will then move upwards very quickly.”

Spahn spoke of a “ketchup effect”. “At the beginning, little comes out (of the bottle), afterwards a lot comes out.”

However, with reports of tens of thousands of AstraZeneca vaccine doses being left unused, people in Germany will be questioning why the rollout can’t receive a boost with local doctors giving out jabs.

About 3.2 percent of the population have been fully inoculated against Covid-19 so far, while 6.9 percent have had their first jab.

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach believes it will take until May before vaccination in doctors’ surgeries can run at full scale in all states.

He told the Funke-Mediengruppe: “If we had already involved the doctors in private practice, it would have led to disappointment. If a doctor can vaccinate just a few people a day, but 1,000 are waiting for it at his office, that only causes trouble.”

Christian Karagiannidis, who heads up the intensive care register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi), called for more leeway in the vaccination priority schedule once the coronavirus vaccine is available in doctors’ offices.

“Nothing could be worse than vaccine doses being left over at the end of a working day or ending up in the trash,” he told the Rheinische Post.

He said if there are leftover doses, it would be best for doctors to call patients they know to see if they would spontaneously come for a jab.


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