Explained: How to get vaccinated against the flu in Germany in 2020

The arrival of the colder weather will see the start of the annual flu season in Germany. This handy guide aims to answer all your flu-related questions, and explain how best to protect yourself this winter.

Explained: How to get vaccinated against the flu in Germany in 2020
The federal government is pushing for more people to get vaccinated against the flu this year. Photo: DPA

The German government has ordered over 26 million vaccine doses for the upcoming flu season, more than ever before. 

With cases of Covid-19 expected to rise rapidly over the winter months, it is hoped that widespread flu vaccination will play a vital role in keeping increasingly-important hospital beds free.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged as many Germans as possible to book a flu-jab appointment, stressing that vaccination is more important than ever this year to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

What is the flu, and how does it differ from the common cold?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. 

The symptoms of the two diseases are often very similar, but symptoms of the flu will usually appear rapidly and all at once, whilst a common cold will develop more gradually. 

Common flu symptoms include fatigue, a high fever, cough, sore throat, and aches and pains.

Some of these symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus. You should contact your doctor, your local hotline or the non-emergency number 116 117 if you are unsure if it coronavirus and they can advise you on the  next steps.

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Those suffering from colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than a high fever, and will usually experience less intense versions of the other symptoms mentioned above. 

Whilst most cold sufferers recover within a few days, the flu is often harder to overcome and is more likely to lead to serious complications.

Who should get vaccinated against the flu?

The Standing Committee on Vaccination at the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has published a list of population groups particularly at risk of suffering from complications if they contract the flu.

The ‘at-risk’ groups for whom vaccination is strongly recommended are as follows:

  • Those above the age of 60

  • All pregnant women in their 2nd or 3rd trimester, as well as women in their 1st trimester who are particularly at risk of illness-related complications

  • People with chronic respiratory illnesses, heart or circulation problems, liver or kidney problems, diabetes or other metabolic diseases, chronic neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or immune diseases. 

  • Those living in care homes

  • Those living with (or in regular close contact with) people in the above risk groups

  • Those working in high-risk professions such as medicine, or in settings where they find themselves in regular contact with the public

Those in direct contact with poultry and wild birds should also get vaccinated. While the vaccine does not protect against bird flu, it prevents possibly dangerous cases of infection with both types of flu. 

Adults under 60, teenagers and children may wish to consider vaccination if they find themselves in regular contact with those in at-risk groups, but the cost may not be covered by their health insurance.

Why is flu vaccination particularly important in 2020? 

While vaccination isn’t compulsory in Germany, it is strongly recommended for those in risk groups.

This year, there has been a particular push from both national health authorities and the federal government to increase vaccination rates, which have been low in recent years, causing concern.

You can receive a flu vaccination at most medical practices across Germany. Photo: DPA

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The RKI stresses that those at high-risk of flu-related complications are usually those at high risk of falling severely ill with Covid-19, especially those over the age of 60 and those suffering from chronic illnesses. 

A high vaccination rate is also essential this year to avoid a large wave of flu cases. It is hoped this will free up intensive care beds and equipment needed to treat sufferers of Covid-19, for which there is still no approved vaccine. 

Where can I get vaccinated in Germany?

Vaccinations can be carried out by your local Hausarzt (general practitioner), and should be covered by your insurance if you belong to a risk group. Simply visit the practice with your health insurance card to get vaccinated. If you are not sure if you qualify for a free flu jab, call your doctor up to ask.

Many other specialist medical practices (such as pediatric or gynecological) also offer walk-in services.

Some employers will also offer a free vaccination service for their employees to ensure they remain fit enough to work, but this is not always the case. 

When should I get vaccinated?

The immunity offered by the vaccination only lasts for around six months, and it takes around two weeks after vaccination for the body to build up immunity to the virus.

READ ALSO: We'll see more local lockdowns in Germany': Experts warn of tough measures as Covid-19 cases rise

Therefore, the RKI suggests that October and November are the best months to ensure maximum protection throughout the seasonal flu wave, which usually peaks between December and March/April.

Will there be enough flu vaccines this year?

The German Medical Association has expressed concern that an increased demand for flu vaccines will lead to a shortage in supply. 

Some regions in Germany have already reported long waiting lists, but Health Minister Spahn stressed that vaccines will be available for everyone who needs them, if not all at once.

While he admits that not everyone will be able to access the vaccine immediately, getting vaccinated in November or December will still offer sufficient protection.

He also pointed out that between four and six million vaccine doses are disposed of every year because they have not been used, and that more vaccines are available this year than ever before. 

With reporting by Eve Bennett


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Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant