On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed critics of the country’s slow-motion COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying the vast vaccination centers set up last year will be full by April.
In an interview with the public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel admitted there was “disappointment” at the slow start, but insisted that it was surprising that there was a vaccine just one year after the virus was first discovered.
“This is a huge achievement that no one expected,” she said. “So we did not state clearly enough that there would not be enough vaccines for everyone to start with.”
Germany began vaccinating elderly people in December and has so far had around 3.8 million injections. But the huge vaccination centers set up in exhibition halls and sports arenas saw very few patients, as many shots were given to people in nursing homes or hospitals.
The government said deliveries of the three vaccines that have already been approved will be ramped up in the coming weeks, and that by Easter, all people in the highest priority group will be offered a dose.
Merkel said: “These centers will be at full capacity at the end of March, April.” “We will struggle to get all (vaccines) given after that, but in the first weeks there was a shortage and some people expected differently.”
She rejected claims that the European Union was stingy when it came to requesting vaccines last year, saying that the much faster spread in Britain and the United States “was not a matter of money.”
Some of the frustration in Germany is due to the fact that the first vaccine, made by German company BioNTech and its American partner, Pfizer, was not licensed in the European Union until weeks after it received the green light in Britain and America. A second German company, CureVac, announced Friday that it has requested a rolling review of its vaccine data with the European Medicines Agency with the goal of obtaining prompt authorization.
The Germans were also alarmed by widespread accounts of people skipping the vaccine queue. On Friday, the term “ Impfdraengler ” – which is German for someone who skips others to get a vaccine – went viral on social media after reports that hospital heads, mayors and even a Catholic bishop in Augsburg got a chance in front of doctors and nurses.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters that the government will discuss with Parliament “whether the sanctions in this area are reasonable.”
Patient rights activists warned SPAN last year that Germany’s complex vaccination system could open the door to corruption and queue, but the Health Ministry has rejected repeated calls for criminal sanctions.
In her ZDF interview, Merkel expressed regret for being very careful in ordering face masks during the early phase of the pandemic last year, then hesitating to impose a second lockdown when infection numbers spiked again after the summer.
“With hindsight, of course we were very hesitant in the fall,” she said. “I didn’t have a good feeling at the time, but I supported the decision (to postpone the lockdown).”
Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Wednesday to extend the current closures of stores and most public establishments until March 7, although schools and hairdressers will be able to open their doors soon.
The 7-day rolling average of daily new confirmed cases in Germany has decreased over the past two weeks, going from about 15 new cases per 100,000 people on January 28 to less than 10 new cases per 100,000 people on February 11th.
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