Berlin (dpa) – The corona vaccinations started in late 2020 and about 20 percent of the approximately 83 million people in Germany have now received at least one dose. So about one in five, and the trend is rising.
On the other hand, many millions of people are still completely unprotected; according to statistics from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only about 7 percent of the population had the second of the vaccination appointments needed for full protection. Is Germany’s vaccination campaign still paving the way for the pandemic?
“With a vaccination rate of 20 percent, we don’t have a big, significant influence on the infection rate, on the number of cases,” said Carsten Watzl, secretary general of the German Immunology Association. The first vaccination offers good protection against severe courses, but infections are still possible.
With the previous vaccinations, especially the people at highest risk of serious and fatal courses have protection: those over 80 years old. “Most of the group has been vaccinated,” says Watzl. The RKI cannot give an exact vaccination quota at that age. However, one thing is clear: the number of deaths reported daily has dropped significantly from the second wave. Experts are also seeing a shift towards the younger age groups in terms of incidents. Watzl speaks of the “first success of the vaccinations”.
However, many vulnerable people are left without protection. Which dimension is probably generally underestimated: due to age and previous diseases, the RKI sees an increased risk of a serious course of Covid-19 in 36.5 million people in Germany, of which the institute counts 21.6 million in the high-risk group.
“We have only just started vaccinating people over 60 and people with previous illnesses. That will take a while, ”Watzl emphasizes. In the third wave, the protection of this large group can be built. With a vaccination rate of 70 to 80 percent in the risk groups, the occupancy of the intensive care units will noticeably decrease, the immunologist estimates.
However, that still wouldn’t be a free easing ticket. “Otherwise, we will have massive incidents in the rest of the unvaccinated population,” explains Watzl. “Their risk of serious illness is not zero. With a high number of cases, hospital occupancy would remain high. We can’t let it go like this. “
According to statistics, only three million people in Germany have experienced the infection so far, with experts assuming a very high number of unrecognized and thus unrecorded cases. Plus, an infection that has gone on doesn’t mean those affected can’t be reinfected – and pass the virus on. A study presented in the journal “The Lancet Respiratory Medicine” has only just shown that young adults are not fully protected against re-infection. Vaccination remains important for those who have recovered: to enhance the natural immune response, to prevent reinfection and to reduce transmission of the pathogen.
Once vaccination has made great strides, the number of infections could decline rapidly – this is shown by encouraging news from countries with rapid vaccination progress, such as Israel and Great Britain. In Israel, more than half of the nine million inhabitants are now double vaccinated. The number of corona infections, serious illnesses and deaths has now fallen sharply, researcher Eran Segal of the Weizman Institute tweeted recently.
In the UK, more than 32 million people, about half of the population, have had their first vaccination. The number of new infections and deaths is falling after a disastrous situation with 70,000 new infections per day at the beginning of January. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and doctors such as Azeem Majeed of Imperial College London attribute this not only to the vaccination campaign, but also to the long, severe restrictions: for months the British were allowed to meet only one person outside, and only exercise or walk; Leaving the house without good reason was not allowed. Traveling abroad and private indoor meetings are still prohibited to this day.
For people in Germany, politicians have promised a vaccination offer for everyone (excluding children) before the end of the summer. Whether this will work is hard to predict – there are too many uncertainties: will the announced deliveries and further vaccine approvals come as hoped? What happens if virus variants gain the upper hand against which vaccinated and convalescent people are not optimally protected? After the rare side effects with Astrazeneca, are there any more unexpected setbacks to the vaccination campaign?
Experts fear that the rare blood clots in cerebral veins could be a common problem with vector vaccines. The preparation of Johnson & Johnson and the Russian vaccine Sputnik V could then be affected by age restrictions – in Germany the use of Astrazeneca is only recommended for people 60 years and older. “I see the risk that about half of the vaccine doses for the summer months will be lost because of these rare side effects,” says immunologist Watzl. ‘Then we don’t have enough mRNA vaccines for young people under 60.’