The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is to be offered to key civil servants in Germany in a bid by Angela Merkel’s government to win public support for the jab, it has emerged.
While the AstraZeneca jab has been a vital component in the UK’s successful vaccination roll-out, health authorities in Germany have been struggling to get people to take it amid public perceptions it is less effective than its rivals and causes more severe side effects.
In stark contrast to the EU's accusations last month that AstraZeneca failed to deliver promised vaccines, Germany is struggling to use its stocks of the jab, and has administered only 211,000 of the 1.4m doses AstraZeneca has delivered so far.
In a bid to counter this the health ministry is planning to use the AstraZeneca jab exclusively when the vaccination roll-out extends to key workers at government departments next month, according to details leaked to Spiegel magazine.
“If our own people don't get the AstraZeneca jab it's even harder for us to convince the general public,” the magazine quoted an unnamed official as saying.
German health authorities report many people refuse the vaccine when they learn they have been assigned the AstraZeneca jab, or simply fail to turn up to their appointments.
Public concerns appear to centre on the fact the vaccine is slightly less effective than its rivals, despite assurances from experts it prevents most serious courses of illness. There have also been concern at reports of flu-like side effects, although these are harmless and disappear within a few days.
The fears have been fuelled by the German authorities’ decision to limit the use of the vaccine to under-65s because of a lack of data about its effectiveness in older people. Briefings against the vaccine at the height of the EU row by someone within Mrs Merkel’s government — it still isn’t clear who — didn’t help either, and have left Germany scrambling to repair the damage.
The move comes amid evidence public confidence in Mrs Merkel’s coalition has been significantly dented by the EU vaccine debacle. A new poll found that only 40 per cent of Germans trust the government to handle the pandemic, compared to highs of 70 per cent last year, while some 45 per cent have little or no confidence in the government.
Mrs Merkel is also facing pressure from Brussels over Germany’s decision to close its borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian region of Tyrol to prevent the spread of variant strains of the virus.
The European Commission has sent Germany a letter demanding an explanation within the next ten days. In theory it could take legal action against Germany but this is thought unlikely.