BERLIN — Germans will be “vaccinated, cured or dead” by the end of this winter, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Monday, as he rushed out extra doses of the coronavirus jab from BioNTech and Pfizer to inject into the arms of the one-third of people in the country who are still not vaccinated.
Germany is experiencing record COVID-19 caseloads in the current fourth wave of the pandemic, putting hospital intensive care units under increasing strain — with unvaccinated patients far more likely to become critically ill.
“Probably by the end of this winter pretty much everyone in Germany — as has sometimes been cynically put — will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” Spahn told a hastily arranged press conference, in his starkest warning to date of the risks of holding out against vaccination.
“But this really is the case: With the very contagious Delta variant, it is very, very likely … that anyone who is not vaccinated will over the next few months become infected and lack protection.
“In this respect, immunity is always achieved, the question is only whether it is through vaccination or infection. And we clearly recommend vaccination.”
Spahn angered doctors last week by rationing scarce supplies of the vaccine devised by Mainz-based startup BioNTech, which is in favor thanks to its “Made in Germany” status, while saying no limits would apply to the distribution of doses from U.S. biotech company Moderna.
In an abrupt U-turn, he announced Monday that he was rushing out an extra six million doses of the BioNTech shot, while giving assurances that Moderna was also “a good, safe and very effective vaccine. ”
“Many doctors say that BioNTech is the Mercedes among vaccines and Moderna is the Rolls Royce,” said Spahn.
The Robert Koch Institute reported a record weekly incidence of 387 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people Monday, with swathes of southern and eastern Germany shaded in purple on its color-coded map — indicating crisis levels of more than 1,000 weekly cases per 100,000 people.
More than 99,000 people have died from the disease in Germany.
Just 67.5 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, a level that has left the rest of the population wide open to infection by the extremely contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. Speaking last week, RKI chief Lothar Wieler said: “We aren’t talking about isolated outbreaks anymore — all of Germany is one big outbreak. This is a national emergency.”
Spahn denied allegations that his ministry was hoarding BioNTech doses. “Everything we have … will be delivered, of course. We aren’t holding anything back, as I read over the weekend,” he said.
Until the end of the year, there will be 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccine available in Germany — 24 million from BioNTech and the remaining 26 million from Moderna.
“So if we assume that we want to do 25 to 30 million booster shots until the end of the year, then a large part of those vaccinations can be with BioNTech, if desired,” Spahn said, seeking to offer reassurance to Germans who prefer the BioNTech shot even though data show it is no more effective than Moderna.
“They are equivalent in terms of safety, in terms of the very rare side effects, which are less than 10 cases per 100,000,” Klaus Cichutek, head of Germany’s vaccine watchdog the Paul Ehrlich Institute, said of the two vaccines.
“The efficacy has been found to be 90 percent and higher for both vaccines,” he added.