BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s health minister warned on Friday that there was not enough vaccine in Europe to contain the third wave of COVID-19, as the country was looking to resume its rollout after a three-day break from using the drug. AstraZeneca injection.
The number of cases has increased in Germany, driven by easing restrictions in recent weeks, just as a more transmissible variant of the virus has spread, underlining the need to speed up vaccinations to protect the vulnerable.
Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the suspension, which was lifted on Thursday after European Union regulators said the benefits outweigh the risk as they provide transparency.
“We can reintroduce AstraZeneca, but with caution, with informed doctors and properly educated citizens,” he said at a weekly news conference.
But he warned that vaccines alone would not be able to contain the third wave, as there are not enough doses, and said that restrictions that have been lifted may have to be reimposed to stem the spread of the virus.
“The growing number of cases may mean that we cannot take any further steps in the coming weeks. On the contrary, we may even have to go backwards,” said Spahn.
State leaders are also expected to discuss with Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Friday ways to speed up the vaccination campaign, among others, by allowing family doctors to start administering doses in their surgeries.
The suspension was the latest hurdle in Germany’s vaccination campaign, which has been plagued by delays in delivery and news of side effects. As of Friday, only 8.5% of the population had received the first shot, far behind other countries like the United States and Britain.
German state leaders said they were ready to make up for lost time quickly. In Berlin, anyone who should be given an injection of AstraZeneca earlier in the week can attend vaccination centers this weekend without an appointment.
Meanwhile, the premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg in southwestern Germany, Winfried Kretschmann, 72, is due to receive an AstraZeneca vaccination on Friday, in a move to boost confidence.
But Bodo Ramelow, the prime minister of Thuringia in eastern Germany, said he would not advise his wife, who needs to use anticoagulants due to the risk of thrombosis, to get an injection of AstraZeneca, although he did it himself.
Karl Lauterbach, the leading health expert at the SPD, a junior partner in the Merkel coalition, said it was important not to create the impression that the AstraZeneca vaccine was not suitable for younger women.
In Germany, eight people were diagnosed with cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) within about two weeks after being vaccinated. They were among the 1.6 million recipients of the injection on Wednesday, with higher CVST cases among women.
Lauterbach said the higher incidence may be due to the fact that younger women work in the health sector or in kindergartens, groups that received the AstraZeneca vaccine in greater numbers.
Spahn said he expects vaccinations to take place in doctors’ offices from April 19 at the latest, but warned that supplies will remain restricted.
Germany expects to receive 15 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter, a few million less than initially expected, he said.
Spahn also spoke in favor of signing an agreement to supply the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19, but said there needed to be more clarity on the quantities available.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Paul Simao)