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What it’s like to get a jab through Berlin’s pilot project to vaccinate Covid hotspots

What it's like to get a jab through Berlin's pilot project to vaccinate Covid hotspots
People queing for a vaccine in Neukölln on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka
A four-hour wait in the rain with a euphoric finish - The Local's Rachel Loxton got a jab as part of a Berlin initiative to vaccinate in Covid hotspots. Here's what it was like, and what the project could do better next time.

“Is that it?” I asked the doctor who’d just injected me with a Covid vaccine. It was over in a couple of seconds but I’d been standing in line waiting for more than four hours in the (unseasonably bad) May weather. And that’s not to mention the past year and a bit of waiting, hoping that scientists could help us get out of this pandemic mess. 

I managed to get the Covid vaccine as part of a pilot project for some residents in Belin’s Neukölln area

Authorities wanted to target areas with high Covid rates, which are often socially disadvantaged due to problems like cramped housing and high unemployment. 

“It’s right to vaccinate in regions with a high proportion of socially disadvantaged residents in order to compensate for existing disadvantages in access to vaccinations,” Neukölln district councillor Falko Lieko told the Ärzte Zeitung.

“At the same time, the whole city benefits from this, as high incidences have repeatedly been observed in these areas in the past.”

Lieko also told local broadcaster RBB that there tends to be less of a willingness to be vaccinated in socially disadvantaged areas, so setting up clinics in residential areas was a way of tackling this. 

These projects have also been happening in Cologne districts with high Covid rates. But they were put on hold due to a shortage of vaccine doses. 

More than 10,000 people were reportedly invited to come for a vaccine in a Neukölln school hall without booking a prior appointment on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

But, according to the Berlin health department, only 400 doses have been made available each day.

Germany has been ramping up its vaccine campaign in recent weeks, looking at new ways to get the population inoculated. Around 35.9 percent (29.8 million) of people in Germany have been given at least one shot, and 10.6 percent (8.8 million) have received both jabs up until Friday May 14th.

READ ALSO: Germany vaccinates record number of people in one day

Like a rainy festival… but without beer

The vaccination drive opened at 10am on Friday. I arrived at 9am and the queue was already in the hundreds, stretching up the road and round the corner down Sonnenallee, one of Berlin’s best-known and biggest streets.

Unfortunately, it was raining and cold so people clutched umbrellas and shuffled around trying to keep warm. 

It felt like waiting for the headliner of a festival in Scotland due to the dismal weather – and the camping chairs that some people brought added to that feel. There was no one drinking tins of beer though. 

As I got nearer the front of the first queue at around 11.30am, it became apparent that fewer people wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People instead preferred to wait for the other jab on offer – Moderna.

People waiting for a vaccine in the Neukölln school hall on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The European Medicines Agency has said that blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca jabs but that the benefits continue to outweigh risks.

Both vaccines use the same adenovirus vector technology, unlike jabs made by BioNTech/Pfizer or Moderna, which are messenger RNA vaccines.

However, it is possible for anyone over 18 to get J&J and AstraZeneca after a consultation with a doctor. These vaccines were also opened out to all adults in Germany, meaning they are not just for priority groups. 

READ ALSO: Germany makes J&J vaccine available to all adults: What you need to know

I read up on the risks and decided they were very low and I was happy to get J&J. The Moderna vaccine has an overall higher efficacy and I don’t feel particularly at risk from Covid-19. That is to say that I think others could benefit from it more, and there are still not enough vaccine doses to go around. 

And also…I quite liked the idea of only needing one injection: J&J requires one shot, rather than two. Two weeks after (while your body builds up protection) and – boom – you’re fully vaccinated. 

J&J is also being given out to people in Germany who may find it harder to come back for a second shot, for example homeless communities. 

Once I was put into the J&J queue that stretched across the school football field, I filled out a form that had details of all the risks and asked for info on my medical history. 

I struggled to write as I shivered and the wind blew the paper around. A woman in front of me placed the paper on the back of her boyfriend to try and scribble things down in absence of a clipboard. 

We waited a long time, watching German media teams film the scene, and more people join the queues. 

The Moderna queue moved faster as there is no requirement for a doctor consultation before getting it. And as I found out later, there were more stations for administering this vaccine.

When I finally got to the top of the line to meet the doctor, it was about 12.45pm. He asked me if I had any questions, looked through my sheet and then pointed me to another queue. 

Members of the German army (Bundeswehr) were collecting people from both queues to take them into – yep you guessed it – yet another queue. We were close, though. By this time I was starving, freezing and ready to collapse with exhaustion. But seeing the vaccination booths gave me an adrenaline boost.

After another wait, I had to give my passport and vaccination card to a desk manned by the Bundeswehr. And two minutes later my left arm was tender – I had been jabbed.

Afterwards in the school gym-turned-vaccine-hall I was offered sparkling water in a plastic cup. I wanted to hug the man who gave me it. I waited 15 minutes, enjoying the chance to sit and rest and be calm for a few minutes before getting the bus back home.

What could be done better?

I think going into communities to deliver jabs is a brilliant idea. 

But there were a few aspects of the organisation that could really be better without much work. For example, fewer people could have been invited in one go. Different streets could have been asked to try and come on different days. That would have avoided such large queues. 

As a relatively healthy person, I didn’t mind taking the hit and queueing for a long time. But I also saw families and people that might have struggled more.

Furthermore, although the staff were generally friendly, I noticed an older man get refused entry to get a vaccine, resulting in tensions escalating. He said he lived with a family member who was part of the designated addresses, but didn’t have proof. 

In these situations, I feel it’s better for all to allow that person in. That man, due to his age, was probably more at risk of Covid than me and many others. There has to be some flexibility when dealing with people.

READ ALSO: How did Germany turbocharge its vaccine rollout – and what can it do better?

As I write this my arm is sore and I’m exhausted – all normal side effects to getting the vaccine. I’ll of course keep an eye on any other possible side effects and take it easy for a few days. 

Overall I feel beyond lucky and happy to have received a vaccine against this virus that’s wrecked so many lives. It opens doors to travel, to going home, to hugging people safely. It helps to protect myself, and other people. It’s science doing its very best for us all.


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