Germany is making the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus jab available to all adults irrespective of age or pre-existing health conditions, as the country switches to a twin-track strategy to counteract hesitancy around viral vector-based vaccines among older people.
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, announced on Monday that anyone who wished would be able to receive the one-shot J&J vaccine, as long as they had been made aware of the extremely low risk of a rare blood-clotting condition linked to the jab in the US.
Germany’s vaccine regulator has only recommended the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for people aged 60 and over, but Spahn justified the more liberal approach by arguing that he expected most older people willing to be vaccinated to have already received their shots by June, when 10m doses of the US vaccine are scheduled to arrive in the country.
The two mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, which use the genetic code rather than any part of the virus itself, will initially still be administered in keeping with priority lists for older citizens and certain professions, though prioritisation is expected to be scrapped for good in June.
The Johnson & Johnson decision is in line with a new approach to the handling of the AstraZeneca jab, the other vaccine currently authorised in Germany that uses a weakened form of the common cold virus as a vehicle to deliver a single coronavirus gene into human cells.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been available to all adults in Germany since Saturday, prompting a rush for walk-in appointments at doctors’ surgeries across the country.
In Freiburg, in south-west Germany, local media reported queues forming outside a vaccination centre from 6am, with 1,800 available AstraZeneca shots assigned within 10 minutes of the centre opening two hours later.
More than 2,500 people gathered outside a mosque in Cologne that was offering jabs of the Oxford-developed vaccine to adults, irrespective of age.
“We saw one thing over the weekend,” said Spahn. “There is huge demand for AstraZeneca, and I am sure it will be the same for Johnson & Johnson”.
The rush for AstraZeneca shots is likely to have been influenced by the government’s decision last week to free fully immunised people from social distancing restrictions, testing requirements and curfews.
“The patient vaccination marathon has turned into a race for the quickest shot possible,” wrote the Die Welt newspaper.
After a slow start, Germany’s vaccination campaign has recently swung into gear, with almost one in three people having received at least one shot by Monday.