Germany Will Offer Vaccine Booster Shots Starting in September
BERLIN – As concerns grow about the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, Germany on Monday became the largest western country to announce that it will offer vaccine boosts to a wide range of people considered potentially vulnerable, adding to the growing momentum in wealthy countries to give extra injections to fully vaccinated people.
Germany’s move came even as a senior European Union official criticized the bloc as falling short of promises to donate vaccine doses to Africa and Latin America. And with a limited global supply of vaccines, health experts say the top priorities should be delivering doses to poor countries that are far behind on vaccinations and persuading people who are resistant to vaccines in rich countries to drop out. get vaccinated for the first time.
There is still no consensus among scientists on the need for booster vaccines, but as fears increase of further pandemic waves and more costly lockdowns, a growing number of countries are preparing to give their populations doses. reminder – or have already started.
From September, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, wants to give a booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine to the elderly, residents of nursing homes and people with weakened immune systems – as well as ‘to anyone already fully vaccinated with the two-dose AstraZeneca or single-dose injections of Johnson & Johnson, which clinical trials have shown are not as highly protective.
“We will be ready for the fall,” said Klaus Holetschek, the Bavarian Minister of Health who made the announcement on behalf of the 16 German ministers of health. “I am convinced that a recall is important and fair based solely on prevention. But I still hope that the science stays up to date and generates even more reliable data to help us optimize our vaccination strategy. “
The issue of booster shots has been hotly debated in wealthy countries at a time when their immunization rates have slowed. But as the Delta variant, which first ravaged India, became dominant across much of the United States and Europe, and with cases on the rise in June and July, more governments seem to be moving towards their approval.
Israel, one of the early leaders in immunization, started giving boosters to people 60 and older last week. A month ago, Russia made additional vaccines available to everyone six months after inoculation, and Hungary on Sunday began offering them four months after vaccination.
France only offers them to people with weakened immune systems and plans to give them this fall to those who were the first to get the vaccine earlier this year, mainly people over 75 and those having serious health problems.
In Britain, which remains ahead of the European Union on vaccinations, health authorities are preparing to offer boosters as early as September, but this plan has not yet been activated by the government. A committee of government advisers recommended in late June that all people over 50 be eligible, but said the priority should be to vaccinate people over 70, health workers, residents of nursing homes. nursing and young adults with immune problems or other serious vulnerabilities.
Government advisers said the plan would “maximize protection for those most vulnerable to severe Covid-19 before the winter months,” as health officials fear a resurgence of the coronavirus alongside other seasonal illnesses once put a strain on the UK healthcare system. Again.
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Several other European countries, including Italy and Spain, have said they will likely make boosters available to certain groups this fall. But none indicated that they would go all the way to Germany and include healthier, younger people who received the injections of AstraZeneca or the one known in Europe as Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and the United States. under the name of Johnson & Johnson.
In the United States, health officials in the Biden administration increasingly believe vulnerable populations may need additional vaccines even as research continues on how long vaccines remain effective. Some people have gotten boosters just by not disclosing their previous vaccinations.
But as governments, terrified of a new wave of viruses, increasingly turn to boosters, their need remains uncertain.
Studies have indicated that the immunity resulting from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is long lasting, and researchers are still working to interpret recent Israeli data suggesting a decline in the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine months after inoculation. .
Pfizer, which began advocating for booster shots in the United States, offered its own study last week showing marginal decline in efficacy against symptomatic infections months after vaccination, although the vaccine remains potently effective against serious illness and death.
Experts were divided on the usefulness of booster injections so soon after starting vaccination. Experience with other diseases indicates that the elderly and those with weakened immune systems could benefit, but there is little hard evidence with the coronavirus.
“The problem here is that we’re sort of relying on an immunological history, rather than very good data to justify things one way or another,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona. “I fully understand the decision, but I think we have to recognize that there is a wide range of uncertainties about what she will do.”
Booster doses may help some people with weakened immune systems, but others may show little improvement even after a third dose, and still others may not need a booster at all, scientists say.
While dozens of mostly wealthy countries, including the United States and most of Europe, have administered more than 100 doses per 100 people, many other countries remain below five per 100 – mostly in Africa. , where cases have skyrocketed as the Delta variant spreads.
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Doctors Without Borders recently said that it would be “unreasonable” to give booster doses in richer countries before people in poorer countries receive their first doses.
“Wealthy governments should not prioritize the administration of third doses when much of the developing world has not even had a chance to be vaccinated against Covid-19 yet”, Kate Elder, adviser principal in vaccine policy to the Doctors Without Borders access campaign. , said in a statement.
The new German guidelines, announced after Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn met with state health ministers on Monday afternoon, cite “early study results that indicate there may be an impact increased immune response or rapidly subsiding after a full Covid-19 vaccination in certain groups of people ”, especially those who, due to their age or pre-existing conditions, have a weakened immune system.
The government did not give details of the studies behind Monday’s announcement and indirectly acknowledged the lack of conclusive data by urging scientists to do more studies to help improve vaccination strategies.
As part of the German initiative, vaccination teams will be sent to nursing homes and other facilities for vulnerable people to administer injections of an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Doctors and vaccination centers will be called upon to provide additional vaccines to other eligible people, including those who are young and healthy but have been fully vaccinated with a so-called vector vaccine, such as AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.
It is the latest sign that governments are encouraging their citizens to mix and match vaccines in the hopes of eliciting a more protective immune response against Covid-19. Early results from a UK vaccine study showed that volunteers produced high levels of antibodies and immune cells after receiving a dose of each of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines.
The new German guidelines announced on Monday also went further by encouraging parents to vaccinate children between the ages of 12 and 17, announcing that doctors and vaccination centers across the country would make the vaccine available to them before the news began. school year.
Health ministers have not made a formal recommendation for childhood immunizations, but the move has shown their impatience with the German Standing Committee on Immunizations, which has so far refrained from guiding parents one way or the other, until more data becomes available.
Vaccination of children “is a building block for a safe start to the new school year after the summer break,” said Mr Holetschek.
Apoorva Mandavilli has contributed reporting from New York, Benjamin Mueller from London, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Gaia Pianigiani from Rome, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Raphael Minder from Madrid and Thomas Erdbrink from Amsterdam.
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