Coronavirus vaccines are rare and many citizens are waiting for a shot. FDP leader Christian Lindner claims doses are being discarded due to poor logistics planning. Are they?
World champion exporter, logistics specialist, land of organization — Germany enjoys a storied reputation when it comes to efficiency. Many here seem especially upset by the recent stumbles in the execution of the fight against the pandemic of the century.
Coronavirus vaccinations have proceeded at a very slow pace: Just 2.7% of Germans have been fully vaccinated and only 5.7% have received their first dose, according to the German Federal Ministry of Health's vaccination dashboard (March 4, 2021). That puts Germany in 33rd place on US news agency Bloomberg's Vaccination Tracker, far behind other industrial nations like the UK (31.4%) or the US (16.3%). Accusations of desperately needed vaccine doses in Germany being wasted are all the more scathing so when leveled by people like Christian Lindner — leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP).
"While #Biden has promised to offer vaccination appointments to every adult in the USA by the end of May, here in Germany vaccines are thrown away or lying around… This vaccination disaster can't keep on. We need a trifecta of vaccination, testing and opening," Lindner wrote on Twitter.
But is the accusation true? The German Federal Health Ministry does not collect data on discarded vaccine doses and suggested we direct inquiries to state health ministers. Germany's leading authority on disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), likewise collects no such data. Therefore, DW reached out to the ministries responsible for such matters in all 16 states — where we received a variety of different responses:
"We don't have any numbers," said a spokesperson for Baden-Württemberg's Ministry for Welfare and Integration in response to DW's query. Data tracking discarded doses is not systematically collected, the ministry said. If it occurs, then seldom, we were told. The motto at state vaccination centers is: "Waste no vaccine and if doses are left over, pragmatically set about vaccinating priority groups."
Bavaria gave us concrete numbers on discarded vaccines: 0.2% of all vaccine doses in the state had to be thrown away. In absolute numbers that means 3,021 of 1,608,150 administered doses (March 1, 2021) according to a spokesperson for the Bavarian State Ministry of Health and Care. That number also includes 1,000 doses that had to be destroyed due to interruptions to the so-called transport and storage cold chain. "Further grounds for discardings include broken vials or those containing too little vaccine to make up a dose, as well as those containing solid particle contaminants or when mistakes have been made in administering the dose." Prepared doses can also be quickly diverted to vaccinate other individuals, according to priority ranking, to keep them from being thrown away.
A spokesperson for Berlin's Senate Administration for Health confirmed that five doses of vaccine had been discarded in the capital so far, as had been reported by the dailynewspaper Tagesspiegel. That was apparently necessary because the vaccine had sat too long in the syringe rendering it unusable. "If (a very few) doses are ever left over in Berlin, these are given to people working in the vaccination centers," authorities said.
Brandenburg has administered every dose it has prepared. A spokesperson from the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians of Brandenburg, which is responsible for administering the vaccine throughout the state, says the quick-scheduled delivery of very specific amounts of vaccine and the flexible distribution of extra doses to other prioritized people have negated the need to discard doses. "That ensures that no dose goes to waste," a statement said.
"At no point were unused vaccine doses in Bremen discarded," said a spokesperson for the city-state. Individual vaccination appointments allow authorities to know exactly how much vaccine they will need on a given day. Problems with cancelled or missed appointments have been few. As a rule, leftover doses have been given to emergency services workers, according to the spokesperson.
"No unused vaccine doses have been discarded to date," a Ministry of Social Affairs spokesperson from the city-state of Hamburg said. Still, there was one exception in which a few doses had to be destroyed "because temperature was not maintained due to a technical defect in a warehouse cooling system." Hamburg's vaccination centers, said the spokesperson, only prepare as many doses as they need. Should cancelled appointments lead to leftover doses these are given to emergency services workers "who are of the same priority level and are close by."
Our outreach to Hesse's Ministry of the Interior went unanswered. But a spokesperson for the state's largest city, Frankfurt, said that, "at no point were vaccines ever thrown away." Mobile vaccination stations had not wasted vaccine either, as they had planned meticulously, said the spokesperson. In a few isolated cases, damaged BioNTech/Pfizer doses were returned and replaced.
According to data from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's Ministry for Economy, Labor and Health, "very few leftover doses were given to those next in line according to priority level, as well as being given to medical personnel. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania does not maintain records on discarded doses.
A spokesperson for Lower Saxony's Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Equal Opportunity said that it "cannot be entirely discounted" that a few individual doses of vaccine may have been discarded but noted as a rule any leftover doses are immediately given to those with a similar priority ranking. Lower Saxony's vaccination centers are required to prepare no more vaccination doses than they can administer throughout the course of the day. The ministry offered no concrete information on discarded doses.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs possesses no statistics on discarded vaccines either. Leftover vaccines are administered to those with the highest priority standing. If that cannot be done, it is then up to local vaccination center coordinators to decide who should be vaccinated so that no doses need be discarded.
As in Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate has carefully documented all discarded vaccine doses. Of 305,500 doses administered, 0.3% had to be thrown away, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry for Social Affairs, Labor, Health and Demography. "To our knowledge, there have been very few cases of doses not being used, only for instance if they had been damaged during transport," said the ministry.
Neighboring Saarland, on the other hand, says, "not one dose of vaccine has had to be discarded to date." The state's Ministry of Welfare says leftover doses have so far been given to emergency services personnel. People over 70, those working in testing centers, health care administration employees, police and teachers have also been given leftover doses to ensure none went unused.
Saxony, too, uses a varied process that effectively ensures that vaccine doses need not be thrown away, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs. When doses are left over, those working at nursing homes, physicians' offices and hospitals or as outpatient care providers are invited to get a jab. Beyond that, emergency services workers or other priority patients can be inoculated. This is especially true when it comes to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, which must be used when it has been prepared because it cannot be put back in a cooler and used later, as the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines can.
The Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs and Integration in Saxony-Anhalt, "has no data on unused/discarded vaccine doses." Some doses may have been discarded due to inferior quality but no statewide database of cases exists. Leftover doses are generally given to people according to priority status, a ministry spokesperson said.
"There are no known cases of vaccines doses being discarded," said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs in Schleswig-Holstein. The ministry added that as the exact number of doses needed can be quickly calculated at vaccination centers and inventories constantly corrected, few doses are left over, and those that are can be given according to priority group. Currently, such leftover doses are being actively offered to emergency services workers, nurses and vaccination center employees.
"No vaccines are stored or thrown away in Thuringia, there are no leftover doses," said Thuringia's Ministry of Labor, Social Welfare and Health. This, said the ministry, was made possible by a short-term allocation system. The state has used its entire supply of Moderna vaccine. BioNTech/Pfizer is currently holding back a portion of its second dose deliveries. After having received a sizable delivery from AstraZeneca, the state has plans to expand the use of its vaccine.
DW Fact check verdict: Misleading.
Christian Lindner claims vaccine doses are just lying around unused and being thrown away across Germany.
The statement is not entirely false, as our research has found this has happened in a very small number of cases. Nevertheless, things are not as Lindner would have them. Many states say they have not wasted a single vaccine dose, others say they had to discard a few, and still others said they had no data on the matter. When vaccines had to be destroyed it was mainly because of interruptions to the transport and storage cold chain, as well as quality issues.
As there are no independent sources on the use of vaccines at vaccination centers across the country, our research is mainly based on data provided by the state ministries responsible for the collection thereof. Still, local polling in various municipalities provided a similar picture. Our research was unable to corroborate Lindner's claim that massive amounts of unused coronavirus vaccines are lying around at German vaccination centers and even being discarded.
This article has been translated from German by Jon Shelton