Why is there a delay in German family doctors vaccinating against Covid-19?

Health Minister Jens Spahn says vaccinations on a larger scale in doctors' surgeries won't happen in Germany until mid-April. As calls grow to speed up the sluggish rollout of jabs, why can't GPs start immediately?

Why is there a delay in German family doctors vaccinating against Covid-19?
A teacher being vaccinated in Hanover at a centre. Photo: DPA

Other European countries, including France and the UK, have already started carrying out vaccinations at family doctors.

However, in Germany GPs will likely not start giving jabs to residents until mid-April.

Why? Health Minister Spahn says it’s down to there not being enough Covid-19 vaccine doses. The country is expecting more vaccines to be delivered in April.

Spahn said he expects deliveries of the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which was approved in the EU on Thursday, in mid-April at the earliest. This means that there are now four vaccines against Covid-19 approved in the EU.


Where are vaccinations taking place in Germany?

Vaccinations are still happening at special centres across Germany. Some injections are also taking place at mobile units travelling to elderly people who can’t leave their homes.

However, family doctors say that they should have a bigger role in the programme – and that vaccine doses should be transferred to them now.

According to a recommendation by the federal and state health ministers, vaccinations in practices should start “as early as possible”, and no later than the week of April 19th.

Available vaccines will continue to go first to the existing regional vaccination centres of the states, the government and states decided.

But CDU health expert Erwin Rüddel (CDU) criticised this move. He told German daily Bild: “We must now vaccinate in every way that is possible. That only works in conjunction with the doctors’ practices.”

President of the German GP Association Ulrich Weigeldt said doctors could start vaccinating “immediately” if more doses were diverted to practices.

“You should work off the vaccination appointments still booked there now, but in parallel, the field of vaccinations must finally be left to the doctors in private practice,” Weigeldt told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

READ MORE: How GP surgeries will speed up Covid-19 vaccinations from April

Are there really not enough vaccines to be given to doctors?

Spahn told broadcaster ARD on Thursday that doctors in surgeries should and must start vaccinating soon, but that there had to be enough quantities of vaccine.

If every doctor only got five or 10 doses a week, he said, there would be legitimate questions about how doctors should prioritise their patients.

“We need a certain minimum quantity at which it makes sense,” he said. At some point in May, June or July there would be about 10 million vaccinations a week in practices, Spahn promised. “That will then move upwards very quickly.”

Spahn spoke of a “ketchup effect”. “At the beginning, little comes out (of the bottle), afterwards a lot comes out.”

However, with reports of tens of thousands of AstraZeneca vaccine doses being left unused, people in Germany will be questioning why the rollout can’t receive a boost with local doctors giving out jabs.

About 3.2 percent of the population have been fully inoculated against Covid-19 so far, while 6.9 percent have had their first jab.

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach believes it will take until May before vaccination in doctors’ surgeries can run at full scale in all states.

He told the Funke-Mediengruppe: “If we had already involved the doctors in private practice, it would have led to disappointment. If a doctor can vaccinate just a few people a day, but 1,000 are waiting for it at his office, that only causes trouble.”

Christian Karagiannidis, who heads up the intensive care register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi), called for more leeway in the vaccination priority schedule once the coronavirus vaccine is available in doctors’ offices.

“Nothing could be worse than vaccine doses being left over at the end of a working day or ending up in the trash,” he told the Rheinische Post.

He said if there are leftover doses, it would be best for doctors to call patients they know to see if they would spontaneously come for a jab.

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Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans

Whilst the EU warns that unused doses due to vaccine scepticism are piling up, Spaniards of all ages want to achieve immunity against Covid-19 as soon as possible, the data shows. 

Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans
People queue to get the vaccine in Barcelona. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

In Spain, where the Covid-19 rollout has gone from one of the slowest in the EU to currently one of the fastest, pretty much everyone wants to get vaccinated. 

With priority groups almost fully immunised, Spain is still beating daily records with 600,000 to 700,000 doses administered every day. 

The spike in cases among the country’s young population has led several regions to bring forward jabs for teens and twenty-somethings ahead of people in their thirties.

Despite the apparent lack of concern for the pandemic witnessed  in packed squares and streets over the past weeks, young people who have been able to take advantage of the vaccine offer have headed en masse to the vaccination centres. 

When an Asturian youth called Ana Santos told a local newspaper that “after the elderly, it should be our turn to get vaccinated as it’s not as if people in their forties go out, is it?”, her comments went down like a tonne of bricks among this age group, who demanded it was their turn to reach full immunisation first. 

Vaccine scepticism hasn’t been a problem for Spain as it has been for other countries, with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen launching a warning recently that vaccine supplies are piling up, even though Brussels has reached its target of providing enough doses to fully vaccinate 70 percent of EU adults.

“If we look at the statistics, more and more doses remain unused,” von der Leyen told journalists in Strasbourg.

“This is linked to the fact that there is a greater distribution of vaccines, but in part also due to doubts about vaccination,” adding that it was crucial to reach the most sceptical parts of the population” in the face of the “worrying” presence of the Delta variant.

“Traditionally in Spain, we have had much less resistance or rejection towards vaccines, that’s always been the case,” vaccine expert at the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) Ángel Hernández-Merino told 20minutos. 

“In any vaccination programme, it’s vital to count on the population being willing to accept the vaccination”.

A June 2021 Eurobarometer study found that 49 percent of people in Spain want to get vaccinated “as soon as possible”, the highest rate in the entire EU (32 percent EU average). 

Whereas an average of 9 percent of EU citizens don’t ever want to get vaccinated, the rate in Spain is 4 percent.  Around 63 percent of Spaniards told Eurobarometer that they couldn’t understand why people are hesitant to get vaccinated and 71 percent said Covid vaccines are the only way for the pandemic to end. 

In Belgium, around a third of the population doesn’t want to get vaccinated.

In other countries where in the earlier stages of the Covid vaccination campaign it seemed  that available doses were easily used up it’s now becoming evident that sprinting through the age groups doesn’t guarantee that everyone is being vaccinated. 

Germany, the UK and the US, all seen as examples to Spain of how to quickly immunise a population, have all seen their campaigns slow down due to hesitancy and the summer holidays.

Spain’s Health Ministry doesn’t give data on how many people have rejected the vaccine and why, but stats do show that already more than half of the population (57.5 percent) have at least one dose and 43.3 percent are fully vaccinated. 

The Spanish government has stuck to its objective of vaccinating 70 percent of the country’s 47 million people before the end of August, even though it did fall short of its June target by more than half a million doses. 

Rather than vaccine scepticism, what’s been holding up Spain’s inoculation campaign have been doubts over the administration of second AstraZeneca vaccines and the decision to keep a reserve in case the country experienced delivery setbacks as it has in the past, with 2.9 million doses in storage reported in late June.