Early this year, Germans were frustrated and angry at the slow pace of vaccination in the country. Now? The rate has vastly sped up and the country is awash in vaccine. The problem has now become finding enough people willing to get their jab.
At the beginning of this year, a neologism began making the rounds in Germany: vaccination envy. In February, between 1 and 2 million people in the United States were already receiving their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine each day. But here in Germany, vaccine was so scarce that the country hardly had enough for its most vulnerable groups. Nobody could get a vaccination appointment and everywhere, people felt as though Germany had got the short end of the stick.
Overloaded hotlines, the back-and-forth regarding the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine, delivery cutbacks, people jumping the vaccine priority line and, most recently, the bad news that the vaccine from the German company CureVac is apparently inadequate. Even Britain was faster. Germany’s vaccine campaign initially looked like an endless series of failures, bad luck and mishaps.
Now, though, the nationwide vaccine operation is running much better than people thought it might. Just recently, Germany even passed up the U.S. in terms of the percentage of the population that has received an initial dose. Vaccination appointments – which were extremely difficult to get just a few weeks ago – are now widely available, even on short notice. Some vaccination centers are even taking walkups, while medical practices find themselves searching for people to inject with unused doses. More and more people find themselves faced with a choice: Johnson & Johnson next week at the family doctor, or Moderna a week later at work?
Since the beginning of May, an average of almost 700,000 doses are being administered each day in Germany and the inventory and planned deliveries are sufficient to ensure that the rapid tempo will continue in the coming weeks. According to DER SPIEGEL calculations, around 60 million people will have received their first dose by the end of July, a number equivalent to 72 percent of the entire population.
“There is a lot to suggest that July could even be a better month for vaccinations than the previous one,” says Martin Helfrich, spokesperson for the social administration office in Hamburg. “We’re not far from reaching our goal,” agrees his counterpart in Bremen, Lukas Fuhrmann, adding that it had always been clear that once deliveries began increasing, things would go really fast.
The German Health Ministry now believes that all adults in the country will likely have received an offer for a first dose of vaccine by the end of July. Insofar as the delivery forecasts are accurate, it’s possible that 12- to 18-year-olds willing to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so by the end of August, says Health Ministry spokesperson Hanno Kautz. Indeed, it looks as though the government will go far beyond fulfilling its initial promise that all those eligible would have had an opportunity to receive a first dose by the end of the summer. By then, most of them will have received their second doses as well.
In February, shortly after the number of daily corona deaths had reached its apex, the Health Ministry released vaccine delivery forecasts for the rest of the year, according to which Germany would receive 97 million doses by the end of July, including 3.5 million doses from CureVac.
The forecast seemed wildly unrealistic: AstraZeneca was falling behind on its promised deliveries, Johnson & Johnson delivered far fewer than the 10 million doses promised and CureVac had nothing to send. Nevertheless, it looks as though by early July, 94 million of the 97 million doses promised in February will have been delivered. A big reason for that is BioNTech/Pfizer, which boosted its initial delivery prognosis for the second quarter by 10 million doses.
The rapidly climbing vaccination rate has flip-flopped the situation in medical practices and vaccination centers. Whereas they used to complain of a shortage of doses, now, they sometimes have trouble finding enough patients. In Bremen, for example, every 10th appointment for a first vaccine dose is either being cancelled or patients simply aren’t showing up, says Lukas Fuhrmann, the health spokesman from Bremen. It is rare, he says, for appointments for a second dose to be missed. “Slowly, it’s becoming difficult to find people who aren’t yet vaccinated.”
Almost all those who want to be vaccinated have received at least their first jab.
Which means that Germany’s vaccination campaign is now entering a new phase. Almost all those who want to be vaccinated have received at least their first jab. Now, the focus is on vaccinating those people who are still hesitant or who find the registration process to be too complicated. And those who may not be aware of the vaccination campaign. “We want to make it as easy as possible – with mobile vaccination centers, for example, or temporary vaccine centers in structurally disadvantaged urban districts,” says Fuhrmann. In such neighborhoods, he adds, it’s often not possible to reach people through standard channels like newspapers or radio. “We are working with cultural associations and religious communities to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
It remains unclear what percentage of the German population will ultimately be vaccinated. Children below the age of 12, who cannot be vaccinated, make up 11 percent of the populace. It still hasn’t been determined if vaccinating this age group even makes sense from a medical perspective. Then there are the anti-vaxxers, who make up between 13 and 20 percent of the population, depending on the survey. That means that the vaccination rate could end up being lower than 70 percent, below the level necessary for herd immunity. According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, the new, highly contagious virus variants mean that herd immunity can only be reached if 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.
There will, though, be plenty of vaccine doses around this fall. An additional 220 million doses have been ordered for delivery by the end of the year, with another 204 million coming in 2022. Some of that will be necessary for booster shots. The rest, though, will likely be sent onward to other countries.