Consternation in Germany over vaccine roll-out after AstraZeneca move

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) speaks at the Chancellery during a press conference after an online meeting with state premiers to discuss how to proceed with the Astrazeneca vaccine. Merkel justified the new age restrictions for Astrazeneca's drug in light of the trust in Corona vaccines Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP POOL/dpa
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) speaks at the Chancellery during a press conference after an online meeting with state premiers to discuss how to proceed with the Astrazeneca vaccine. Merkel justified the new age restrictions for Astrazeneca's drug in light of the trust in Corona vaccines Photo: Markus Schreiber/AP POOL/dpa

(dpa) – Germany’s decision to limit the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jab to people over 60 has caused consternation at the national and state level, amid fears that it may further slow down the country’s sluggish vaccine campaign.

The head of the national teacher’s association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, said the decision was a “catastrophic blow” for the effort to vaccinate teachers during the course of April.

The effort would fail – meaning it would be harder to keep schools open – unless the AstraZeneca vaccine could be substituted with another drug, he told dpa.

On Tuesday, Germany’s federal and health ministers agreed to limit the use of AstraZeneca’s shot to people aged 60 and older due to concerns about blood clots. People under 60 would still be able to receive the shot, but only after an individual risk assessment and thorough explanation from a doctor, the ministers decided.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and AstraZeneca itself have said that the vaccine is safe to use, although the EMA is planning more consultations.

In Berlin, the federal government pleaded for citizens to have patience as Germany’s 16 states reorganized their vaccine strategies in light of the AstraZeneca decision.

For one thing, it would affect how doses are distributed between vaccine centres and local medical practices, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

It is up to the individual state administrations to put the new rules into practice, with the potential of complications as states have wide powers to decide their own health policies.

Saarland in the west has ruled out the use of AstraZeneca completely for the time being. In North Rhine-Westphalia further north, over-60s will be able to book appointments to take the AstraZeneca jab from Saturday.

Figures released by the disease control body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), show that in some regions Germany is far short of an EU-wide target to have all over-80s vaccinated by the end of March.

Persistently high infection numbers are meanwhile leading to stricter lockdown measures in some parts of the country.

Hamburg on Wednesday agreed to put in place a night-time curfew from Friday, between 9 pm and 5 am. During those hours, residents can only leave their houses for certain reasons.

Two influential state premiers – Markus Soeder in Bavaria and Winfried Kretschmann in Baden-Wuerttemberg – wrote to their fellow state leaders on Wednesday to call for more action.

“The third wave has been sweeping inexorably through our country for a few weeks. The situation is serious, more serious than many believe,” they wrote. The letter called for night-time curfews and obligatory virus tests in schools in areas with especially high infections.

A top virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, Christian Drosten, said the situation nationwide was “very serious and very complicated,” after the rate of infections doubled in the last three weeks.

The number of coronavirus cases rose by 17,051 on Wednesday, with 249 deaths reported over the past 24 hours.

The average seven-day rate of infection per 100,000 people – a common measure of how fast the virus is spreading – dropped slightly to 132.3 on Wednesday, compared to 135.2 the day before. On March 10, this figure was at 65.

The RKI expressed concern late Wednesday that 88 per cent of cases recorded in Germany between March 22 and 28 were the British variant, which is thought to be much more contagious.

However, the disease control body emphasized that current information shows all vaccines available in Germany offer protection against the variant.

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