Getting a COVID booster jab in Germany: What you need to know
Germany’s standing vaccination committee (STIKO) has recommended extra vaccine doses (booster shots) for certain population groups. Here’s what you need to know about who’s eligible, and how you can get one.
Why are booster vaccinations necessary?
Studies have shown that the protection given by vaccinations against COVID-19 can diminish over time, especially among the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. This puts these population groups at greater risk of being infected, despite being fully vaccinated against the virus, and potentially suffering more serious symptoms if they do become infected.
A booster shot is a way of “topping up” or “boosting” this vaccine protection, prompting the immune system to produce more antibodies and thus better protect itself against the virus.
Back in August, the Federal Ministry of Health announced that it would start rolling out booster shots to vulnerable population groups, as a “precautionary measure” to give people additional protection through the autumn and into winter, especially in response to the spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant.
Who can get a booster jab in Germany?
STIKO currently recommends that booster vaccinations be given to more at-risk population groups. Specifically, this includes:
- People over the age of 70
- Care-home residents (even if they are younger than 70)
- Nurses and carers
- Staff in healthcare who have direct patient contact
- People with immunodeficiencies
- People who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine first time around
- People over the age of 60
- Residents of facilities catering for vulnerable groups (such as people with disabilities)
- Staff working in these facilities
- People in regular contact with infectious people, such as medical staff, emergency services and mobile vaccination teams
- People in need of care in their own home
- People who received an AstraZeneca vaccine first time around
More recently, the federal government (and increasingly STIKO also) is coming around to the idea of offering booster shots to the general population, six months after their last vaccine, although precedence should continue to be given to the priority groups outlined above. The booster shot will always be given at your GP's discretion, so speak to them about receiving your jab.
When should I get my extra vaccine?
Though people are understandably anxious to top-up their protection before heading into the winter months - with colder weather likely to boost infection rates - the Health Ministry and medical experts have urged people not to rush.
In principle, a booster vaccination is recommended no earlier than six months after your primary vaccination - that is, six months after you received your second jab. If you received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine the first time around, this interval is reduced to four weeks.
In order to prevent people from being turned away for presenting for their booster too early, the government has specified that this six-month rule is a general guideline that does not have to be adhered to "to the day".
Which COVID vaccine is being used?
Only mRNA vaccines (currently BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna are the two approved mRNA vaccines in Germany) are being used for booster shots. This decision was made based on current scientific knowledge about their effectiveness, and their availability.
If you received either BioNTech or Moderna for your first and second jabs, if possible you should receive the same vaccine for your booster shot.
If you received an AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine the first time around, you will still receive an mRNA vaccine for your booster shot. Studies have shown that a so-called heterologous vaccination scheme (or cross-vaccination) leads to a significantly higher antibody formation than just being vaccinated with a vector vaccine like AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.
How do I get one?
Booster shots are being administered in Germany by mobile vaccination teams, regular GPs, and company doctors. The individual federal states bear responsibility for organising booster shots and so you should refer to your state’s health ministry website for further information.
Is the booster shot free?
Yes. All vaccinations against COVID-19 that are carried out in accordance with the rules are free of charge for all residents of Germany. This also applies to booster jabs.
Can I get my booster jab at the same time as my flu jab?
You can get your COVID booster jab at the same time as your flu jab. Speak to your doctor or company physician about this. STIKO recommends a flu vaccination for people aged 60 and over, women in all stages of pregnancy, those with preexisting conditions, and medical staff.