At a time when vaccines are in such urgent demand, Germany has more than 1 million unused doses in storage, in part because people are reluctant to take them.
Once hailed for its response to the coronavirus, Germany has administered just 15 percent of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine it has received, the country’s Health Ministry said in a briefing on Wednesday.
Some officials blame weakened trust among members of the public, following statements by political leaders and incorrect press reports questioning the vaccine’s effectiveness. Others point to a dysfunctional implementation plan that has failed to invite enough people to schedule vaccination appointments.
“We are doing a lot of work on this and trying to convince people to accept the vaccine and really rebuild the confidence in the vaccine in the population,” Thomas Mertens, a professor who chairs Germany’s Permanent Commission on Vaccination, told the BBC. Thursday. “But this is a psychological problem and it will take time to reach its goal.”
The launch of the vaccine in the European Union has been much slower than in the United States or Great Britain. EU leaders from 27 nations met virtually Thursday to find ways to speed things up amid fears that new variants could bring new waves of infection to the continent. The EU has given only 7 injections for every 100 people, compared to 20% in the US and almost 28% in the UK.
The UK, with one of the highest death rates in the world, has been praised for its vaccination strategy. This week, the German tabloid Bild placed the union flag on its front page along with the message “Dear Britain, we envy you.”
The United States has relied solely on vaccines made by its own pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Moderna. But these have been much smaller in supply in Europe, in part because the United States bought so much of the stock, and they are also expensive and unwieldy.
Europe has relied heavily on the vaccine made by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which is cheaper and much easier to transport, but it has not yet been approved in the US.
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Medical regulators in some European countries, including Germany, have also said that there is not enough data from clinical trials to attest to the effectiveness of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in people over 65.
This was hotly contested by some experts who said that while AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 trials had a small sample size for older people, there was other evidence that the injections were effective.
In addition, a group of Scottish universities published a study this week suggesting that the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 94 percent, higher than the Pfizer-BioNTech injection.
The decision to restrict the vaccine to the very young has meant that Germany has not been able to give the most abundant vaccine in its portfolio to the elderly.
The German states, which are in charge of their individual vaccination campaigns, have also not invited enough people from the second and third priority groups, which include those with underlying health problems, according to media reports in the country. .
Now, European officials are struggling to reassure the public and update their policies.
Germany is changing its vaccination priority list so that teachers are now included in the second priority group, and Health Minister Jens Spahn has requested that they be handed over to the police force and army.
Spahn noted that it was a “privilege” to receive the “safe and effective” vaccine from AstraZeneca, while Chancellor Angela Merkel warned people in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that “as long as vaccines are as rare as they are by At the moment, you cannot choose what you want to be vaccinated with. “
Andy Eckardt and Carlo Angerer contributed.