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COVID-19 VACCINES

What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

With Covid cases rising, many people in Germany are wondering if they should get a fourth Covid jab - or second booster. Here's what you should keep in mind.

A vaccination centre offering the fourth Covid jab in Hanover.
A vaccination centre offering the fourth Covid jab in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

German states have started giving out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant.

Though the Omicron variant is believed to cause milder courses of illness than earlier variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and is often able to evade the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. 

Who should get the fourth Covid shot (second booster)?

People who belong to ‘at risk’ groups should think about getting a booster shot this autumn.

The official recommendation from the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) stipulates that people over the age of 60 should get a further booster vaccination.

In addition, people over the age of 12 who have an underlying condition that can lead to severe illness with Covid-19 should also get a shot.

Experts also recommend that residents and staff in nursing homes or long-term care facilities receive a fourth jab.

READ ALSO: When – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

In STIKO’s latest guidance dated September 20th, experts also say that it may be appropriate for people at particular risk, for instance the very elderly or people with immunodeficiency, to get another shot (a fifth jab) after the fourth vaccination, although that would depend on several factors and a medical consultation. 

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Should people under the age of 60 get a fourth jab?

If people don’t fall into a risk group and are under the age of 60, they can still receive a fourth vaccination, although it’s not officially recommended. You should have a consultation with your GP – or a doctor carrying out Covid vaccinations – if you are interested in getting the fourth jab. 

How do vaccination centres handle people under 60 who want to get another Covid shot?

There have been occasional reports in Germany that younger people who don’t belong to a risk group have been turned away from vaccination centres because they don’t qualify for a booster jab. 

However, The Local has anecdotally heard that people have been able to get a jab from a vaccination station or centre, regardless of their health condition or age.

A spokesperson at the health department of the city Munich told broadcaster BR24 that carrying out a fourth vaccination is decided on a case-by-case basis and is a decision taken by the medical expert giving out the jab “in each case”.

Where is the fourth vaccination available? 

There are still lots of walk-in vaccination centres across the country, while many doctors and pharmacies also carry out jabs. You should search online or contact your GP for more information. 

Many towns and cities are reporting a significant increase in demand since the new vaccines adapted for Omicron variants became available.

READ ALSO: Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

How many people in Germany have been vaccinated?

According to official figures, 76.3 percent of the German population has received two Covid jabs. Just over 62 percent have also received a booster jab, and 9.9 percent have been given a second booster vaccination.

Around 18.4 million people (22.2 percent) in Germany are not vaccinated. For four million of these people aged 0 to four years (4.8 percent), no licensed vaccine is available.

Does getting the flu vaccination help against Covid?

Coronaviruses and the flu are different viruses, so the flu jab cannot protect against Covid-19. However, those who have a weaker immune system can strengthen their body in fighting a virus by getting a flu shot, according to experts. The immune system can then better use resources it saves against a possible Covid infection.

The fourth Covid jab and the flu shot can be administered to patients at the same time, according to the STIKO – although they don’t have to be.

If this is the case, the injections are given in different arms. However, it could be the case that patients have a stronger reaction if both jabs are carried out at the same time, so keep that in mind. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?

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For members

COVID-19 VACCINES

Where – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

Three German states have started rolling out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant. Here's who's eligible to get a jab and how to go about it.

Where - and how - people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

What are the Omicron vaccines and how are they different?

In the latest phase of the Covid pandemic, the Omicron variant has been by far the most dominant variant worldwide. Though Omicron is believed to cause milder courses of illness than preceding variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and adept at evading the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.

Like their previous Covid vaccines, the latest from BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, a recently developed vaccine type that teaches our bodies to produce an immune response when exposed a molecule known as a messenger RNA. The difference is that these vaccines are what’s known as “bivalent”, meaning they contain both a component of the original strain of Covid alongside a component of the BA.1, BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subtypes respectively.

READ ALSO: EU approves new dual-strain Covid vaccines in time for autumn booster campaigns

That means they’re designed to both offer protection against Covid caused by previous variants as well as the new Omicron subtypes. 

As with other Covid vaccines, the Omicron vaccines are only believed to offer greater protection from infection for a short time after getting the jab. However, studies suggest that they continue to offer good protection against severe courses of illness. 

Where are the jabs being rolled out in Germany?

So far, only a handful of northern German states are offering the new BA.4 and BA.5 vaccine, though GPs have been able to order doses of Moderna’s BA.1 vaccine for a few weeks now.

One of the first states offering the latest Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is Berlin, where both doctors’ practices and the Ring Center Vaccination Centre in Friedrichshain have been providing Omicron vaccinations since Tuesday.

A list of clinics with doses of the specially adapted vaccines can be found here (in German). Alternatively, people can head to the vaccination clinic at the Ring Center between 9am and 7:30pm daily, with or without an appointment. 

In Lower Saxony, GPs are currently able to obtain up to 240 doses of the new BA.4/BA.5 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech. Vaccination centres such as the Impfzentrum am Landtag in Hannover are also offering the new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

Around 145 mobile vaccination teams are also expected to receive doses of the new vaccine over the course of the week, meaning people who aren’t able to get a jab at their doctors’ surgery or vaccination centre yet can look out for pop-up clinics in places like shopping malls and on the high street.

In Bremen, the latest BA.4/BA.5 adapted vaccine from Pfizer has been used as the standard booster shot in a number of vaccination centres since Thursday. People who are interested in the Omicron vaccine can get it at the vaccination centre Am Brill, in the vaccination centres in Bremen-Nord, Bremen-Ost and at the centre in Bremerhaven. Mobile vaccination teams have also received doses of the new vaccine.

Due to the current high level of demand, people are being advised to book an appointment ahead of time at www.impfzentrum.bremen.de. 

Doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Omicron vaccine are expected to be rolled out in other German states in the coming weeks. 

Are the new vaccines recommended for everyone?

On September 20th, Germany’s Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) updated its guidance to recommend that the latest Omicron vaccines are used when doctors are giving out booster jabs. 

That means that anyone who hasn’t had a third dose of Covid vaccine should soon be able to get an Omicron booster as standard. 

However, STIKO currently only recommends second boosters (or fourth jabs) for certain groups who are at risk of severe courses of Covid: people over the age of 60, nursing home residents, staff at care homes and hospitals and people with existing immune system deficiencies. 

For this group, the fourth dose should only be administered more than six months after the third dose, according to STIKO. This can be reduced to four months in exception circumstances.

People who don’t fall into any of these categories may still be able to get a dose of one of the newest Omicron vaccines after a consultation with their doctor. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?

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