German health minister seeks to step up booster shots
Germany's health minister called Wednesday for booster vaccinations to be stepped up and for more frequent checks of people's vaccination or test status as new COVID-19 infections increase.
Senior health officials also appealed anew to German residents who haven't yet been vaccinated at all to get their shots, though Health Minister Jens Spahn acknowledged that many of the holdouts can't be convinced. They said that pressure on hospital beds is rising, particularly in regions where vaccination rates are relatively low.
Spahn said that although officials agreed in August to make booster shots available to over-60s and nursing home residents and staff, only a bit over 2 million have been administered so far.
"That is much too few—the pace of boosters is not sufficient," he added.
There is some tension between the minister and doctors' organizations over the issue. Germany's independent standing committee on vaccination—whose recommendations are followed by many doctors—currently recommends boosters for over-70s and a few other groups, but the health ministry says everyone who wants one is entitled to one.
"If every country waited for data before they do anything, we wouldn't have any data," Spahn said, noting that boosters have been cleared by European authorities and vaccinations of teenagers also were started well before a recommendation from the committee. He said the most at-risk should take priority, but as far as others are concerned "the vaccine is there, the clearance is there and findings from other countries are there."
Official figures show that about two-thirds of Germany's population of 83 million has completed its first round of vaccination. The head of the country's disease control center, Lothar Wieler, said that 16.2 million people age 12 or above remain unvaccinated—including 3.2 million over-60s.
Germany hasn't made coronavirus vaccinations obligatory for any professional groups, unlike some of its European counterparts. But regional governments have limited access to some indoor events and facilities to people who have been vaccinated, have recently recovered or been tested, and some are tightening those rules.
Checks are often lax at best.
"If my vaccination certificate is checked more often in one day in Rome than it sometimes is in four weeks in Germany, then I think more can be done," Spahn said. He also called for obligatory testing across Germany of nursing home staff and visitors, including those who have been vaccinated.
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