Germany has hit the Covid-19 vaccination accelerator, with plans to abolish its priority system for all vaccines from late next month.
Getting a head start on Thursday were the state governments of Berlin, Bavaria, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, all of which have dropped their priority procedures for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
With immediate effect, anyone can get the vaccine from their GP, once they are made aware of rare but serious side-effects.
Germany’s official recommendation is for AstraZeneca to be given to people over 60, after a rare blood clot condition was noted in 31 cases, or one case per 100,000 doses.
Health officials said the policy shift arises from a growing vaccine supply and a wish to run down supplies of so-called “vector” vaccines such as AstraZeneca before pivoting to mRNA vaccines such as BioNTech.
After a sluggish start, more than one fifth of the German population now has received at least one jab. News of the liberalised vaccine regime came as Germany’s 16 federal states in the upper house of parliament, the Bundestag, backed a plan for tougher, unified lockdown proposals from next Monday.
Federal health minister Jens Spahn said he was “happy” about the prospect of a more liberal vaccination regime but warned against “creating false hope”.
“From June prioritisation can be abolished,” he said, “but the third wave cannot be tested away.”
On Thursday official German data showed nearly 30,000 new infections within 24 hours, among the highest in the year-long pandemic.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law on Thursday afternoon a controversial new bill giving chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration in Berlin control of Germany’s pandemic restrictions.
Already facing multiple challenges before the federal constitutional court, the new bill ends a year of often wide divergence in the implementation of regulations agreed between Dr Merkel and state leaders.
In a final Bundesrat debate on Thursday morning Germany’s 16 state minister presidents – even those from Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union – aired their misgivings about the approach.
Volker Bouffier, state leader in Hesse, described it as a mixture of “anxiety and paternalism” while Rainer Haseloff, state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, called the new centralised approach “a low-point in Germany’s federal culture”.
From Monday the new rules apply in regions with an incidence rate of more than 100 cases per 100,000 of population over seven days – currently 85 per cent of the country.
New procedures impose a night-time curfew between 10pm and 5am, with some exceptions, while essential retail will remain open. Below an incidence rate of 150, non-essential stores and services are allowed open for those with a negative Covid test.
Private indoor gatherings are limited to members of a single household and one other person, to a maximum of six people. Non-contact outdoor sports are permitted while employers are obliged to allow employees a working-from-home option or, if this is not possible, a free test once a week.
German schools will close in regions with an incidence rate above 165.