After meeting with leaders of Germany's 16 states on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed lowering the age limit for vaccination against COVID. However, the change would depend on an upcoming decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The EU watchdog is expected to approve the jab developed by BioNTech-Pfizer for people between 12 and 15 years of age. If those expectations come true, Germany will start offering vaccination appointments for children starting on June 7.
The news follows other positive signals regarding the pandemic in Germany: the country's COVID-19 infection figures have fallen below the mark of 50 new daily infections per 100,000 people over the course of seven days. That is the lowest infection rate since October — and the development is being put down to an up-tick in vaccinations.
Some 40% of people in Germany have now had at least one jab. Restaurants have reopened outdoor seating areas in most regions, cultural events are cautiously being restarted with hygiene and social distancing requirements in place. Many people in Germany are planning their summer vacations.
Vaccines for all by September?
On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the vaccination progress with 16 state premiers. Although no vaccine has been approved for use in people younger than 16, the politicians focused on children and schools. This is a point of heated debate, as schools have still not resumed regular classes, and students all over the country are still largely stuck with "online learning." On social media, there is a barrage of criticism alleging that politicians have simply ignored the country's young people.
Health Minister Jens Spahn from Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has gone out of his way to appeal to parents: Earlier this week, Spahn promised that all youths above the age of 12 would have the chance to register for a vaccine by the end of August.
He did this with an eye toward schools being able to restart for the new school year in September with students in classrooms rather than at home in front of computer screens.
Germany's vaccination officials hesitant
German vaccine manufacturer BioNtech and US pharma giant Pfizer officially requested European Union regulators widen approval of their coronavirus vaccine to include adolescents..
The companies asked for approval for their jab to be extended to children ages 12 to 15 after trials showed the vaccine was safe and effective.
Germany's permanent vaccine commission, known by the acronym StiKo, is the body that decides which groups of the population get vaccinated and when.
Its 18 members are so far hesitant to allow young people to get the jab, arguing that there is not enough information on the effects of a COVID-19 infection on children. Initial findings suggest that the impact is mild, they point out, but there are also indications that there may be long-term and sometimes severe side effects. The German experts have, however, said they see a clear benefit of vaccination for 12- to 15-year-olds who have underlying chronic diseases.
StiKo epidemiologist Rüdiger von Kries told Berlin public broadcaster RBB that the commission is an autonomous body of experts that does not let itself be pushed in any direction by politicians.
"We don't respond to urgent calls by any ministry. We look at scientific facts and base our recommendations on medical pros and cons," he said.
Health Minister Spahn responded with defiance: If need be, young people could be vaccinated without StiKo approval, he told commercial broadcasters RTL and ntv, saying the experts did no more than "give recommendations." Spahn said it was ultimately up to the parents to decide whether their children get vaccinated.