Spahn expects 60 percent of German population to be vaccinated by autumn
The BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for use in Germany, but Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn remains optimistic that the end of COVID-19 is in sight. He expects more than half of Germany’s population to be vaccinated by autumn 2021. Criticism over the late start of Germany’s vaccination programme is growing.
Spahn: Majority of German population to be vaccinated by autumn
Speaking to state broadcaster ZDF on Monday evening, Spahn said that 60 percent of the German population could be vaccinated by the end of summer 2021. He stated that Germany was expecting to receive a large number of vaccine doses during the summer. According to experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), a vaccination rate of 60 to 70 percent of the population is necessary to bring the pandemic under control.
“Our goal is that approval will be granted before Christmas and then we can start vaccinating this year, here in Germany as well,” he said. He nonetheless emphasised that, ultimately, the final decision rests with the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer applied for approval for their COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of the month; a decision is expected by December 29, at the latest.
Spahn said he is expecting to receive 12 to 13 million doses of the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. If either the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate received approval in the meantime, “We would have additional doses of vaccine available,” he said. “That is quite realistic, but also not yet certain.” In any case, he insisted that Germany would not be at any disadvantage compared to other countries that have already issued emergency approval.
Criticisms mount over slow vaccine progress in Germany
Nonetheless, the fact that a vaccine developed in Germany is already being used in the USA, Canada and the UK, but not in Germany, has attracted criticism. “It cannot be that a vaccine developed in Germany can only be approved and used in January,” said the health policy spokesperson for the FDP, Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus.
The German Hospital Society (DKG) has also spoken out in favour of emergency approval: “I wonder if we really need until December 29 to get the vaccine approved in Europe,” said DKG President Gerald Gaß to the RND on Tuesday. “Europe should also try to create an emergency licence beforehand. Then we could go to nursing homes with mobile teams before Christmas and vaccinate the residents there.”
Spahn, for his part, has repeatedly spoken out against the possibility of Germany going its own way to grant emergency approval. He maintained on Monday that the decision has always been to take a shared European path. “From my point of view, that is very important for trust,” he said, expressing surprise at the nationalist overtones that have taken hold of the vaccine debate.
SPD politician Karl Lauterbach told RND that emergency approval is theoretically possible in Germany, but that it would not come to that “because a delay in approval at European level is simply not to be expected.” He added that to process an emergency approval in Germany would now take longer than waiting for approval from the EU.