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Vaccinating Germany could take until 2022

October 29, 2020

COVID-19 vaccinations in Germany will take until 2022 assuming proven medications are found soon, a leading virologist has said. He warned that the rush for the first vaccines may end in legal disputes.

A person in personal protective clothing looking at an injection
Image: Allan Carvalho/NurPhoto/picture-alliance

Despite a global pharmaceutical rush to develop proven coronavirus vaccines, jabs for the 83-million people living in Germany could take until 2022, the chairman of the country's vaccination oversight commission, Thomas Mertens, said on Thursday.

"Even though vaccines will soon be available, the vaccination of the entire population by the end of 2021 will, in my opinion, not be completed," Mertens told the Funke Media Group.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine update: Who are the front-runners?

Mertens, the head of the 18-member Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko) at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's public health agency for disease control and prevention, also cautioned that it would "take a long time" for a noticeable change in the course of the infection across the entire population to emerge.

Read more: European Commission: EU faces a long coronavirus pandemic

"For example, if you vaccinate 100,000 people a day — and this is a challenge — it would take 150 days to vaccinate 15 million people," said Mertens, explaining the massive effort that will be required to provide vaccinations to everyone in Germany who wants one.

Who gets the first shots?

A public prioritization, for vulnerable people, such as the elderly, as suggested recently by German Health Minister Jens Spahn, could lead to wrangles, Mertens added.

"It could happen that some who do not get an early chance will take legal action," he speculated.

The successful vaccination of Germany's population as a whole would not hinge on whether the campaign started "four weeks earlier or later" but on careful preparation and implementation, he insisted.

Read more: Coronavirus: How long am I immune after an infection?

Transport and storage of doses would be important factors, Mertens said, as well as "the establishment of regional vaccination centers, simultaneous documentation of vaccinations nationwide, and the evaluation of safety aspects.”

Good communication, targeted at every age group and people of all levels of education, will be decisive in creating the "greatest possible acceptance" for the distribution of a vaccine, he added.

GPs demand strategy 2021 and beyond 

Many general practitioners' surgeries were already near overload in dealing with patients' worries, coronavirus testing and requests for normal pre-winter influenza jabs, warned Germany’s GP federation.  

"We demand a sustainable national coronavirus strategy for 2021 and beyond, given especially efforts in family doctors' surgeries," said federal chairman Ulrich Weigeldt, warning "we will have to live with this pandemic for a long time."

Current testing involved "far too much bureaucratic effort" and needed a rethink based on feedback from GP doctors and public health officials, he said. 

"We need to avert outpatient care breaking down — especially in general physicians' practices, which account for a large part of the treatment of COVID-19 patients," Weigeldt said. 

ipj/sms (epd, Reuters, AFP)