Germany confirms booster COVID jabs will start in September

Close-up of the fag of Germany against a blue sky.

Germany's health ministry has said it will start offering booster COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable people from next month, amid concerns about rising cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Health Minster Jens Spahn said the decision was also taken because of concerns that the immune response stimulated by COVID-19 vaccines may start to diminish over time.

Pfizer said last week that protection against infection and symptomatic disease may wane, underscoring the need for booster jabs within six to 12 months of the first course, although it said its vaccine was still highly effective at preventing severe disease and death.

Germany's campaign will use Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, regardless of which type was administered for the first and second doses.

The news comes amid reports that prices charged to European countries for the two vaccines have been raised to around $23.15 and $25.50, respectively.

The ministry also said it will start making vaccines available to children in the 12 to 17 age bracket, as part of a concerted effort to prevent a fourth wave of infections later this year when the schools reopen.

The European Medicines Agency has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots for all over-12s. but at the moment, Germany is only recommending vaccination of children in this age group if they have pre-existing conditions or live with someone vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those with suppressed immune systems.

At the moment just over 52% of the German population has been fully vaccinated and about 62% have received at least one shot, said Spahn in a tweet.

Germany is the largest western country so far to confirms plans to start a booster campaign, although France's President Emmanuel Macon has also suggested that third doses would be made available to vulnerable people from September, including the over-75s and people in care homes, and healthcare workers.

Israel started administering its first booster doses to the over-60s a few days ago, with third doses also on offer in Hungary and Russia to anyone who wants them.

The UK government has also said it may deliver a campaign for the over-50s ahead of the winter, but so far hasn't confirmed it will follow-through on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The US is also undecided, with the Biden administration leaning towards booster shots for vulnerable people, although its energies are directed at the moment at trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy in parts of the country.

Plans for booster campaigns among the wealthiest nations have drawn criticism from organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which said "it would be unconscionable to offer people already fully vaccinated another dose before protecting people who haven't been vaccinated at all".

The organisation says that only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, adding there is no consensus yet among experts that boosters are needed imminently.

"We cannot let pharmaceutical corporations prematurely dictate the need for boosters in the absence of conclusive data and evidence," said Dr Carrie Teicher, director of programmes at MSF-USA.