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Minister tells Germans not to be picky over COVID vaccines

November 22, 2021

Health Minister Jens Spahn has stressed there's an alternative to Germany's homegrown BioNTech-Pfizer jab. He had come under fire from medical groups for limiting supplies in order to use up the country's Moderna stock.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn
German Health Minister Jens Spahn went on the defense in a press conference after limiting order quantities for the BioNTech-Pfizer jab — as unused Moderna doses will soon expireImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German Health Minister Jens Spahn urged patients and doctors not to shun the Moderna vaccine in favor of the more popular BioNTech-Pfizer jab as part of a drive to administer more booster shots.

Seeking to ease concerns about supplies of latest generation mRNA vaccines — Spahn stressed that the Moderna vaccine was a suitable alternative.

What did Spahn say?

The minister said US-developed Moderna — which uses the same core mRNA technology as BioNTech-Pfizer — was a "good, safe and very effective vaccine."

"Some vaccinating physicians say BioNTech is the Mercedes of the vaccines and Moderna is the Rolls-Royce," Spahn said.

"There is enough vaccine for all upcoming vaccinations," Spahn said. "And both vaccines work."

The BioNTech vaccine, developed in the German city of Mainz, has proved particularly popular among the German public. The AstraZeneca shot — which does not use mRNA technology — was initially the main alternative in the early part of the vaccination campaign. It was linked to extremely rare blood clots, and was not recommended for younger people.

Since those concerns arose, and after a legal dispute with AstraZeneca following canceled deliveries, the European Union has increasingly placed its faith in mRNA vaccines. It has made deals with BioNTech-Pfizer for a total of up to 2.4 billion doses until 2023 and with Moderna for up to 460 million shots.

Spahn's comments came in defense of a cap on weekly deliveries of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to German doctors' offices. He told public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that it was "a question of the quantity available."

At the same time, Spahn pointed out, a large quantity of Moderna was ready in the warehouse. He said during the press conference that some 16 million Moderna doses could expire in the first quarter of 2022 if they were not used.

Spahn stressed that Germans should get vaccinated, including with booster shots if their first shot was more than six months ago, to reduce the risk of serious illness.

He said the prevalence of the more infectious delta variant made it increasingly difficult for unvaccinated people to avoid infection.

"As is sometimes cynically said, by the end of this winter pretty much everyone in Germany ... will have been vaccinated, recovered or died," Spahn told reporters in Berlin.

Virologist Günther Schönrich, from Berlin's Charite hospital, told DW that the situation in Europe was "very, very serious." He said it was important for people to have confidence in the Moderna vaccine. 

"I think it's important to emphasize that both vaccines from Moderna and BioNTech-Pfizer are very efficient in protecting from severe COVID-19 and curtailing the admissions to the hospital and the treatments necessary on the ICU," Schönrich said.

Concern in intensive care

Germany's emergency physicians on Monday said they saw see a worrisome situation, despite the fact that many people have been vaccinated.

Many intensive care units are once again at the limit of their capacity, they said, with a significantly higher rate of cases compared with 2020.

Gernot Marx, who heads Germany's DIVI intensive care association, said many hospitals in hard-hit regions had already started postponing scheduled surgery and transferring patients to other facilities.

DIVI also reported huge regional differences. In Bavaria, it said, 30% of patients in intensive care units were coronavirus patients, while in North Rhine-Westphalia it was 10%.

According to reports, Germany's acting chancellor, Angela Merkel, said current measures were insufficient to tame a vicious fourth wave of infections.

"We have a highly dramatic situation — the current rules are not enough," Merkel was reported to have told a meeting of leaders of her conservative Christian Democrats on Monday. 

Germany recorded another 30,643 cases on Monday, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, bringing the total since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to just above 5.3 million.

rc/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)