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Why Germany’s Covid booster jab campaign has failed to take off

Signs urging people to get vaccinated in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
Signs urging people to get vaccinated in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk
German health ministers are now encouraging everyone to get a booster Covid jab six months after their last dose. But how have the confusing messages and lack of clear strategy impacted the campaign?

What’s the latest?

German politicians and health experts say the country needs to speed up the number of booster Covid shots given out as the scale of infections increases dramatically. 

On Tuesday, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun said he had a target in mind.

“We have to achieve around 20 million booster vaccinations by Christmas,” said the Christian Democrat. For this to be achieved, he said, better organisational coordination between the federal and state governments is needed.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), about 3.4 million people have received a booster vaccination (Auffrischungsimpfung) so far in Germany – around 3.7 percent of the population.

German data journalist Olaf Gersemann, who analyses Covid figures, pointed out that 5.3 million more people were currently eligible for their shot. 

On November 9th there was a record number of booster shots given out in Germany. A total of 196,899 top-up Covid vaccinations were logged by the RKI.

Mixed messages

Germany’s booster campaign (or lack thereof) has come under criticism for its mixed messaging. Germany’s vaccine advisory panel STIKO recommends that all the over 70s, care home residents, frontline medical staff and carers and people with immune deficiencies get a top-up shot six months after their second dose.

The STIKO Standing Commission also recommends that people who got the single-dose vector vaccine Johnson and Johnson get a booster shot after four weeks. 

Furthermore, the government and states had also been calling for other population groups to get their top-up Covid shot, including people over 60, everyone receiving care, as well as carers, and people who received the vector vaccine from AstraZeneca.

However, federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, and his state counterparts, said last week that they were now recommending everyone in Germany get a top-up Covid jab, not just risk groups and those who’ve had the vector vaccines. 

READ ALSO: German health ministers recommend Covid booster jabs for all

People are questioning why there have been so many different messages in Germany. 

“While in countries like Israel a good half of the population has already been vaccinated for the third time, there are still no clear rules for Germany,” Bavarian broadcaster BR24 said in an article published this week.

“After weeks of hesitation, the federal and state health ministers agreed in principle last week on the booster vaccination for everyone. Now everyone, regardless of age, who was fully vaccinated at least six months ago is to receive it.

“But with this decision, the politicians have gone further than the Standing Committee on Vaccination recommends.”

STIKO has said, however, that it is in the process of researching whether to issue a general recommendation for everyone to be given a top-up.

Yet experts say the messaging is causing confusion – and may put people off getting a shot. 

“The biggest burden of disease is on the elderly. If we don’t reach them, if they don’t get a booster vaccination quickly, then it can happen once more that more than 40 percent of deaths come from the small group of residents of nursing homes.” virologist Klaus Stöhr told BR24.

No clear strategy by states and federal government

The ARD political magazine report München asked all 16 health ministries of the states how they are carrying out booster jabs.

There was no clear strategy. Journalists found that some states rely mainly on mobile teams or vaccination centres. Other areas have already closed their vaccination centres, and family doctors are responsible.

However, The Local readers have reported that some doctors are following the STIKO guidance strictly and will not give a booster shot to everyone. 

Health Minister Jens Spahn even said last week that he had heard reports of this on a regular basis.

“Another problem is that many people who want to get a top-up shot cannot find a doctor who will vaccinate them,” he said.

The information strategies are also different everywhere. Some states write directly to the elderly, asking them to come for a booster shot, others rely on social media campaigns.

Virologist Stöhr said: “There is a lack of leadership at the federal level. A step-by-step plan is needed.”

Merkel’s chief of staff Braun also called for crisis talks between the state and federal governments to agree measures to combat the pandemic, including on how to increase the booster take-up rate.

He said it was needed because there are “enormous organisational challenges”.


Member comments

  1. In Baden Württemberg, I stood in line for 4 hours in the freezing cold yesterday to get a booster. I got to the mobile vaccination action 35 minutes before it opened, and there were hundreds of people waiting in front and behind me. Some did not get their vaccination. If the media is going to vilify the unvaccinated, and the government is going to punish them for not being vaccinated, then we will achieve nothing towards lowering the number of cases. Many people I spoke to had already stood in line a few times at other places and been turned away from getting the FIRST vaccine! There has to be a better process than this. We cannot go on and on about how people need to get the vaccines, yet give them no real chance at getting one and treat them like animals in the process. This is so beneath German standards. Absolutely shocking and incompetent! And getting an appointment at the Hausarzt is also taking weeks and weeks because of how they have to order the exact amount of vaccine for their appointments that they have to make ahead of time. Whoever thought it was a good idea to do away with the vaccine centers should be fired! We will not be able to vaccinate the number of people in the amount of time we should to lower numbers. I waited so long, but others, who are more reluctant to get the vaccine will not wait. It is our tax money that pays for these vaccines, the people giving them, and the ones making the decisions. Then I hear on the radio today that they want to „sit down and discuss what to do about it.“. A bit late for all that. Yes, people should have gotten vaccinated already, but they did not. Now they are willing, but there are not processes in place to get the vaccine into their arms. This is tragic. Next our tax money will go to pay for their care in the ICU.

  2. Perhaps a campaign by Governments across the world to get people to change their diets from useless trash foods to fresh produce, fruit and vegetables might be a start and not too taxing on politicians brains. Less reliance on prescribed drugs might Increase their own protection too. By introducing a campaign to get people to consume more vitamins and nutritional support would also help them to develop a better immune system. I see none of this, only the clamour by Government to put our hard earned taxes into the coffers of the drug companies so that we consume their non vaccine vaccine while they accept no liability for whatever it is we are supposed to consume unquestioningly.
    It really is time to ask who the scientists are who insist this is the only way to defeat a virus from which most people would usually recover from, should they contact it ithin ten or so days. Where are the educated thinkers please? There must be other points of view to those our incompetent Politicians insist on relying on.

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