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The coronavirus vaccine

Everything you need to know, from vaccine development to clinical use.

Vaccinations statistics for Germany

Select a state from the dropdown menu to see how many people have received their first coronavirus vaccine.

Vaccination rates in Europe

Find out how many people have been vaccinated against coronavirus in European countries.

Status:

Data source: interaktiv.morgenpost.de.

When can I get the coronavirus vaccine?

Germany has been administering the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine since its approval on December 27, 2020. Since then, several other vaccines have also been approved. After initially prioritizing vaccination by risk groups, Germany has now offered every adult the opportunity to get vaccinated.

The need to get a booster shot depends on the course of the pandemic as well as potential virus mutations. It remains important to follow the recommendations of local authorities on hygiene measures and social distancing.

Vaccine development

Vaccine development follows a standard set of steps: In the first step, which takes place in the laboratory, researchers identify which structures on the pathogen (disease-causing microorganism) can elicit a sufficient response in the human immune system. Since a vaccine is a highly modified form of the pathogen, there is no risk of infection.

As with all medicines, we need to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective. During the clinical phases, the vaccine is tested on increasingly large groups of people in clinical trials. Only a fraction of vaccines are approved following careful testing in these trials.

Due to the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, some researchers are accelerating the vaccine development process by combining Phase 1 and 2 or 2 and 3 clinical trials. Fast-tracking approval is also possible in emergency situations.

Vaccine development process

Source

Current status of coronavirus vaccines

The process of vaccine approval varies between countries. There are already several vaccines that have been approved in certain countries but not in others. Also, a large number of additional vaccines are still under development and testing. Thus, the number of approved vaccines may continue to increase in the future. You can find a detailed overview of the different vaccines and their current status in the table below.

Different approaches are used in vaccine development: Some rely on tried and trusted concepts while others involve testing completely new methods. No matter which approach is taken, all vaccines have to go through the same approval steps and their safety and efficacy must be proven in clinical trials. In the end, the main differences between different vaccine types are the different methods that they use to stimulate the human immune system.

Traditional vaccines work by delivering viral components (antigens) to antibodies and immune cells in the body. Newer vaccines, on the other hand, train the immune system by delivering the instructions or “blueprint” for producing the viral antigens instead. It is conceivable that several different vaccines and vaccine types will be available at the same time.

The following figure shows the number and type of vaccines that are currently in each phase of development and testing (State 08.09.2021, Source):

Scroll left to view more of the table ⬅️
Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3 approved*
Inactivated virus3488
Live attenuated virus1000
Virus-like particle1310
Protein subunit715126
Replicating viral vector3310
Non-replicating viral vector5224
RNA5532
DNA3430
Other2200

Approval of vaccines in Germany and Europe

For all EU member states, the path to vaccine approval is coordinated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and follows a centralized evaluation procedure by the European Commission. This involves evaluating the efficacy, quality, and safety of the vaccine.

The pharmaceutical companies must fulfill the following five conditions, which are standardized across the European Union, the United States, and Japan:

  1. Compliance with administrative requirements regarding, for example, user information (package leaflet) and detailed plans for follow-up
  2. Detailed summaries of the procedure
  3. Documentation of quality and of the manufacturing methods used
  4. Results of preclinical laboratory studies of efficacy
  5. Comprehensive report on human clinical trial phases

In Germany, the approval process for COVID-19 vaccines consists of three main stages:

  1. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approves the use of a new vaccine.
  2. The European Commission grants its approval.
  3. The Paul Ehrlich Institute reviews and issues the release of the vaccine batches.

Source

Will the coronavirus vaccine be mandatory?

No. Currently, the German government has no plans to make vaccination compulsory. For vaccines in the past, efforts to increase willingness have always focused on educating the population about the benefits and how vaccines work. Primary care physicians in particular have a key role to play.

From a vaccine to official recommendations

After a vaccine has completed all test phases and been officially approved, the Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) in Germany conducts a scientific evaluation of the vaccine at population level and provides recommendations. These recommendations form the basis for the Vaccination Directive (SI-RL) of the Federal Joint Committee (G-BA), which ensures that vaccinations (with the exception of travel vaccinations) are paid for by health insurance.

Legal obstacles to mandatory vaccination

Making vaccines mandatory is also subject to legal limitations: Section 20 (6) of the German Protection against Infection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz, IfSG) stipulates that the Federal Ministry for Health shall be empowered to declare vaccination compulsory only with the consent of the federal states in the German Bundesrat. In addition, mandatory vaccination would only apply to risk groups within the population that could develop a severe form of the disease.

Germans are indifferent to vaccination

In general, the people of Germany reject mandatory vaccination. Willingness to be vaccinated voluntarily has also decreased throughout the course of the pandemic. This data was collected during two-week intervals as part of the COSMO study, monitoring sociologically relevant variables related to coronavirus.

Immunity certificates are not recommended

Due to insufficient data on long-term immunity and the unpredictable social implications of immunity certificates, the German Ethics Council currently rejects such certificates as evidence of a past infection. The Ethics Council’s statement is available (in German) here.

Graph showing the willingness to get vaccinated and attitude towards compulsory vaccinations
Willingness to get vaccinated and attitude towards compulsory vaccination Source

Who should get vaccinated?

Coronavirus vaccines are the safest way to effectively protect yourself and others from a severe course of the disease. All vaccines approved in Germany have previously undergone rigorous testing for safety and efficacy. The Robert Koch-Institut (RKI) therefore recommends that all adults get vaccinated, unless they have preexisting health reasons for not getting vaccinated. Such medical exemptions must be discussed with a physician on an individual basis. Further information and updates on the RKI's vaccine recommendations can be found here.

What are the potential side effects?

The top priority in the whole approval process is making sure these vaccines are safe. Investigating side effects is one of the most important research questions in clinical trials. Different vaccination types might have different side effects. You can find more detailed information here.

Some rare side effects may only become apparent after the vaccine has been approved. For this reason, vaccines are monitored even after approval. As with all medicines, anyone – not just doctors – can report side effects directly to the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute.

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