In a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 Bundesländer (states) this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed the country’s intention to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15 against COVID-19 starting from June.
Under the Chancellor’s plans, children of school age will be offered the vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, which was manufactured in Germany. This will be on a voluntary basis and will not impact school participation, though it is intended to ease the return of near-normal classroom teaching in September.
The proposal comes after many parents' criticism of online learning, with some accusing politicians of insufficiently supporting young people during the pandemic. The authorities will reserve enough doses for 3.2 million young people between 12 and 18 years old on the assumption that 60% will accept vaccination.
Acceptance, however, is not guaranteed. Due to vaccination being voluntary, the choice to vaccinate children will ultimately lie with parents. Previous limits on the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in particular, including from Germany, has increased general vaccine scepticism in Germany and worldwide. When Sarah Eitze, a researcher at the University of Erfurt, interviewed parents in February, only 50% said they would favour the vaccination of their children. However, this acceptance rate rose to 70% when parents were asked if they would allow their children to be vaccinated for the purpose of protecting others and herd immunity, rather than the self-interest of vaccination.
The change to lower the age limit for vaccination awaits approval by the EU-affiliated European Medicines Agency (EMA), who are expected to meet in the coming days. Given the vaccine’s approval for use in children of the same age in the USA last month, the EMA is expected to give Germany the green light to go ahead with their plans.
If successful, vaccination appointments for 12-15 year olds will be offered from 7th June. According to Angela Merkel, this would mean Germany “will be able to make every citizen including children a vaccination offer by the end of the summer”. Merkel also announced that a ‘digital European vaccination certificate’ will be ready by July.
This latest progress in the German and European response to COVID-19 capitalises on recent improvements regarding the pandemic in Germany. Infection figures have fallen below 50 new daily infections per 100,000 for the first time since October. 40% of the population have now had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 16% are fully vaccinated. The easing of restrictions also allows restaurants to reopen outdoors in some regions, cultural events to restart following a record 2.5 billion Euro support package boost for the cultural sector, and summer holidays to be on the cards for Germans.
Despite any potential drawbacks, this latest response to COVID-19 from the German government is an improvement on its initially slow vaccine rollout, which aligned with its struggles to contain the virus. If successfully combined with the country’s latest improvements in coronavirus case figures and restrictions, Europe’s largest economy looks set to lead the way out of COVID-19.