Germany recommends vaccine mix for better protection

Vaccine committee advises those who received AstraZeneca first to switch to BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna for second shots

ESSEN, GERMANY - JANUARY 18: A doctor inoculates a nurse against COVID-19 with the Moderna vaccine at Essen university hospital (Universitaetsklinikum Essen) during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic on January 18, 2021 in Essen, Germany. Hospitals across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are beginning to vaccinate hospital staff today. (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

Germany on Thursday recommended that everyone who received an AstraZeneca first dose switch to BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna shots for better protection against the coronavirus, including against the Delta variant.

Studies show that the immune response is "clearly superior" when an AstraZeneca shot is combined with a second mRNA vaccine, compared with two AstraZeneca jabs, the Standing Committee on Vaccination at the Robert Koch Institute, or STIKO, said.

STIKO recommended the mix "regardless of age" and with a minimum gap of four weeks between the two jabs.

The vaccines developed by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna are based on the same novel messenger RNA technology, which trains the body to reproduce spike proteins, similar to those found on the coronavirus.

When exposed to the real virus later, the body recognises the spike proteins and is able to fight them off.

Viral vector vaccines such as AstraZeneca's and Johnson & Johnson's use a harmless virus to deliver a piece of genetic code to human cells, allowing them to make a pathogen’s protein. This trains the immune system to react to future infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel received a Moderna second shot after first receiving an AstraZeneca shot.

Pointing to studies in Britain, STIKO said protection against the Delta variant is "significantly reduced" after only one shot.

"In this context, STIKO points out that it is important to get the second vaccine dose," it said.

Germany expects the Delta variant to take over as the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the country in the coming days.

"I expect that in the course of July we will see Delta accounting for over 70 to 80 per cent of infections in our country," Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Wednesday that the Delta variant first identified in India already accounted for 37 per cent of infections in Germany in the week to June 20.

If the Delta variant becomes dominant in Germany, so-called coronavirus variant countries such as Britain and Portugal - from which most travel is currently banned - could be reclassified, Mr Spahn said.

Given the increasing spread of Delta and research showing that full vaccination protects well against it, "we will look at the situation in the next few days", Mr Spahn said.

"If both of these things are confirmed, we will then be able to treat Portugal and the United Kingdom as high-incidence areas", rather than "variant countries", he said.

Only citizens and residents of Germany are permitted to enter from a variant country and are subject to a two-week quarantine, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or can provide a negative Covid-19 test.

By contrast, anyone can enter from a high-incidence country and can end their quarantine after five days with a negative test.

Germany's current variant countries list includes Britain, Portugal, India and Russia.

Despite the rising share of the Delta variant, the overall incidence in Germany has steadily declined in recent weeks.

The RKI on Thursday reported 892 new cases in the past 24 hours and an incidence rate of 5.1 new infections per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

But across Europe, the number of new cases rose again last week after 10 weeks of decline, according to the World Health Organisation.

Speaking in the European Parliament, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde has warned of the threat posed by virus variants to the economy.

"The nascent recovery still faces uncertainty, also due to the spread of virus mutations", she said.

Updated: July 1st 2021, 6:32 PM