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Virologist: 'Vaccinated, recovered or dead' remark is wrong

Elizabeth Schumacher | Laila Harrak
November 22, 2021

Hendrik Streeck, one of Germany's top virologists, told DW that the German health minister's bleak warning didn't reflect how the virus travels nor how long the pandemic might last.

Hendrik Streeck
Hendrik Streeck, a leading professor for virology, says while the pandemic situation in Germany is serious, a warning by the country's health minister doesn't accurately reflect how COVID-19 spreadsImage: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Hendrik Streeck, a professor and director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Bonn, told DW on Monday that he disagrees with Health Minister Jens Spahn's bleak comments about the course of the pandemic in Germany.

During a press conference in Berlin earlier in the day, Spahn told reporters: "Probably, by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, recovered or dead."

Spahn's comments came as Germany grapples with its fourth, and most severe, wave of the pandemic. A further 30,643 cases were reported on Monday, and intensive care units are filling up with COVID-19 patients at a rate German hospitals have never seen before, not even in 2020.

Not how the virus works

Streeck took issue with Spahn's assessment, saying it does not reflect how the virus travels nor how long the pandemic will last.

"While I agree that the situation is serious right now ... I don't agree with the sentence that everyone after this fall or winter 'will be either vaccinated, recovered or dead,' because that would mean that everyone will get in touch with the virus this winter," Streeck said.

But that's not how it works, the top virologist noted.

"It moves from social group to social group, and that's why it behaves in natural waves," he said.

He agreed with the health minister that vaccines are an imperative line of defense against the spread of the coronavirus. But he said Spahn was incorrect in assuming the pandemic would be over by spring 2022.

"If we don't get a higher rate of vaccination, we will have it next winter and next fall again," Streeck said. "We have to prepare for the long-term and also think about next year."

Are vaccine mandates an option?

Concerning the debate in Germany over implementing a vaccine mandate, Streeck voiced some reservations.

He said that, if some people's immunity wanes after six months, "that would mean to have a mandate to get vaccinated every half year for a very long time."

"Politicians promised the people not to have a vaccine mandate," so implementing one could "erode trust in the government" at a time when trust in public institutions is absolutely crucial.

As for a mandate that would apply only to essential workers, Streeck said it would be a catastrophe if doctors and nurses began to quit over mandated vaccines. "It might happen that, if they have a vaccine mandate, that they will just leave their jobs" in the middle of a nationwide crisis.

This interview was conducted by DW's Laila Harrak.

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.