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Merkel, state leaders agree plan to jump-start vaccine drive

March 19, 2021

Germany will begin allowing family doctors and general practitioners to administer coronavirus vaccines. Extra doses will also be given to German border regions with France and the Czech Republic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference in Berlin on Friday
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media in Berlin on Friday, after meeting with state premiers on the nation's vaccine strategy.Image: Michael Sohn/AP Photo/picture alliance

German federal and state governments held talks on coronavirus vaccinations on Friday after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) deemed the AstraZeneca jab safe for use.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed to allow family doctors to administer coronavirus vaccines after Easter, with additional doses of vaccine being given to hotspots in German border regions. 

What did Merkel say?

At a press conference following the talks, the chancellor outlined Germany's vaccination goals going into the next stage of the pandemic.

  • Germany's new motto is "vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate," she said.
  • The goal is to vaccinate "faster and more flexibly" starting in April.
  • "We want the proverbial and tried-and-true German thoroughness to be expanded with more German flexibility, too."
  • The chancellor said she would be willing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, but "would like to wait until it's my turn." 
  • Merkel said Germany could use Russia's Sputnik V vaccine pending EMA approval, adding Berlin would order the jab if the EU does not.
  • "I think we have a good chance of offering a vaccine to every resident by the end of the summer," she said.
  • Looking at rising infection numbers, Merkel said Germany must not hesitate to return to a hard lockdown if necessary.
  • "I had hoped that we would manage without using this emergency brake, but that won't be possible, if I look at the development of the past days," she added.

What is the new strategy?

A decision paper agreed during the conference outlined the measures that the federal government and state leaders will take in the coming weeks. 

  • Vaccine deliveries to family doctors and general practitioners can begin the first full week of April following Easter, but supplies will be limited at first.
  • Jabs in doctors offices should target the most vulnerable patients — ones who have been deemed higher risk.
  • Around 15.4 million vaccine doses should be available in April.
  • In order to reach the higher deliveries, manufacturer BioNTech would need to fulfill its promise of distributing 4 million additional vaccine doses to the EU in the second quarter, with 580,000 doses headed for Germany
  • Extra BioNTech-Pfizer doses should be allocated to COVID hotspots, such as border regions with France and the Czech Republic.
  • The federal government and state leaders still intend to make the coronavirus vaccine available to every German citizen by this summer.

Germany taking steps to make vaccine distribution more flexible, DW correspondent says

DW Chief Political Correspondent Melinda Crane said the decision to allow family doctors to start vaccinating "will make the administration process and the logistics more flexible, but the fact is, quantity is still a major problem." Previously, only vaccination centers were allowed to inoculate patients.

Crane said vaccinations will likely not pick up until the end of April, when "considerably more" vaccine doses would arrive in Germany. "The main bottleneck is simply quantity," Crane added.

What's the status of Germany's vaccine rollout?

Germany's vaccination campaign has been widely criticized for its delays.

Things were further complicated earlier this week after the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine  due to concerns over a possible link to blood clots. Germany has now lifted that suspension following guidance from the EMA, which ruled the vaccine safe for use on Thursday.

German health authorities have decided to issue a warning about the AstraZeneca vaccine, advising women under the age of 55 that the vaccination may be associated with cerebral blood clots.

According to German public health body the Robert Koch Institute, over 3 million people in Germany have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with nearly 7 million receiving at least one dose. 

In addition to 40.2 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, some 6.4 million doses of Moderna vaccine are expected to be distributed to the EU in the second quarter. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, will also be made available in the coming months. 

Rising cases could trigger longer lockdown

The summit comes as cases skyrocket due to a more contagious British variant of the virus spreading across the country.

On Thursday, the seven-day incidence of cases per 100,000 residents increased to 95.6, a jump from 90 the day before. 

If the seven-day incidence of cases rises to 100, Germany could implement a longer lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, health experts warned on Friday.

Merkel will again meet with state leaders on Monday to discuss extending coronavirus restrictions and to confer about a plan to re-open the economy. 

wd/rs (AFP, dpa)