Germans queue at mosque for AstraZeneca vaccines after age limits scrapped

Authorities made 2,000 doses available at Cologne's Central Mosque

People queue outside the Central Mosque in Ehrenfeld suburb, as they wait for a COVID-19 vaccination, amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Cologne, Germany, May 8, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
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A German mosque doubling up as a vaccination centre was swamped with people at the weekend after the AstraZeneca shot was made available to all adults.

Authorities made 2,000 AstraZeneca doses available at Cologne’s Central Mosque in a two-day immunisation effort after age restrictions were lifted on Thursday.

People started queuing at 4am after locals were told they could get a shot without booking in advance.

The mosque, the largest in Germany, welcomed the campaign and assured Muslims that they could get a shot during Ramadan.

The vaccines were open to all local citizens, not just Muslims, and their appointment for a second AstraZeneca dose will take place at the same venue.

“I thank the city of Cologne and the doctors’ association of Cologne for using our mosque for this vaccination campaign,” mosque head Kazim Turkmen said.

“As a religious community, we have a responsibility for each other.”

Germany faced months of difficulty in acquiring and distributing AstraZeneca doses, partly linked to the EU's feud with the firm over delayed vaccine shipments.

Authorities in Germany struggled to persuade a sceptical public to take the vaccine after initial doubts over its efficacy in older people were proceeded by fears over blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency says the vaccine is effective and that the benefits of preventing Covid-19 outweigh the risk of very rare blood clots.

Nonetheless, the public doubts left more than a million AstraZeneca doses lying in storage in Germany.

On Thursday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that age prioritisation for the AstraZeneca vaccine – made in conjunction with the University of Oxford – was being completely scrapped.

Similar moves were announced by several German states in order to prevent doses from “lying around” unused.

Germany made Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine available to all adults on Monday, with a majority of people over 60 expected to be vaccinated by June.

COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 09: People receive a corona vaccination with AstraZeneca against Covid-19 inside the city's main mosque, which has temporarily become a mass vaccination center, during the coronavirus pandemic on May 09, 2021 in Cologne, Germany. City authorities are offering more than 1100 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the mosque on a first-come first serve basis for a second day following the accumulation of doses. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
People receive coronavirus vaccines in Cologne, Germany, on Sunday. Getty Images 

The move is Germany’s latest attempt to accelerate its much-criticised vaccine programme, which administered more than a million doses in a day for the first time on April 28.

A total of 15 million shots were given in April, as many as in the three previous months combined.

About 32 per cent of Germany’s population has received a first dose of either a Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Slightly more than 9 per cent have been fully vaccinated, giving them certain freedoms under legislation approved last week.

Under national measures introduced in April, areas of Germany with an infection rate above 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a week are required to impose curfews.

However, the curfews no longer apply to people who have been fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19 infection.

Announcing the measures this week, Justice Minster Christine Lambrecht said there needed to be a "good reason" for any restrictions on public life.

"As soon as this reason ceases to exist ... these restrictions should then no longer be in place," she said.

With infection numbers falling, many states are eyeing reopening various facilities in the coming weeks.

Bavaria is planning to open restaurants, theatres, cinemas and beer gardens from Monday in areas with incidence rates under 100.

The state will allow hotels, holiday homes and campsites to open from May 21.

Mr Spahn said on Friday that Germany appeared to have broken the third wave but warned that reopening too quickly "would only help the virus".

"In this phase of the pandemic, it is really a matter of not gambling away what has been achieved," he said.