The AstraZeneca vaccine has proved unpopular across the EU after member states said trials showed it to be less effective than alternatives from Pfizer and Moderna. But German leaders have now had to back down and launch a public relations push to reassure the people about the shot which was developed in the UK.
Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “The vaccine from AstraZeneca is both safe and highly effective. The vaccine can save lives.”
With schools and nurseries due to reopen from a lockdown imposed in November, health ministers chiefs have reworked vaccination rules so that teachers will now get priority access to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Health Minister Jens Spahn has also requested that the AstraZeneca shot be given to the police force and army.
Germany has administered 5 million vaccine doses so far, or around six for every 100 residents, putting it well behind countries like the UK, USA and Israeli that have much more aggressive campaigns.
Most are of the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by Germany’s BioNTech, and have been given so far to the elderly and infirm.
Of the 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots due to having been delivered by the end of last week, only 187,000 have been used so far, according to figures from the health ministry and Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.
With the AstraZeneca vaccine only approved for people of working age, Mr Spahn has asked that the German army be mobilised to administer it to state workers like police and soldiers.
The Health Ministry confirmed it had asked the army for help in setting up two vaccination centres in Bonn and Berlin for state employees in uniform.
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Although Germany, like other European Union member states, had got off to a slow start, the latest government figures indicate that it will take delivery of at least 10 million further doses by April 4.
Mr Spahn said he wanted to start administering vaccines at family doctors’ practices as soon as 3 million to 5 million doses are delivered weekly.
That would help ease potential bottlenecks at the regional vaccination centres that have been set up by Germany’s 16 federal states.
While coronavirus cases have fallen in recent weeks, the rate of decline has slowed with the seven-day incidence rate hovering at around 60 cases per 100,000.
Germany reported 3,883 new infections and 415 further deaths today.
But the slow vaccination roll-out and the risk of major outbreaks of fast-spreading variants already identified in Germany could make any easing of restrictions more difficult.
She told MPs she wanted any return to normal life to be done carefully to avoid having to reintroduce lockdown measures if infections start to rise again.
She said making rapid tests more available and boosting testing capacity could make a return to normality more durable.