Health News

Germany encouraged by Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine news, cautious on timeline

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's health minister is encouraged by a Pfizer PFE.N announcement that its COVID-19 vaccine proved effective in a late-stage trial but still does not expect a shot to be available before the first quarter of 2021, he said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with "Vaccine" stickers stand near a medical syringe in front of displayed "Coronavirus COVID-19" words in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech BNTX.O said on Monday their experimental vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data from a large study, a major victory in the fight against the pandemic.

“If this should prove true ... then it would be a good signal because it shows that this vaccine makes a difference,” Jens Spahn told a news conference, but added he was cautious on the timeline because there can always be setbacks.

To break the dynamic of the spread of the coronavirus, between 55% and 65% of the population will need to be vaccinated, Spahn said. However, the first vaccines are only expected to be available in limited amounts.

Germany plans to set up centralised vaccination centres to inoculate priority groups in the first instance, which will be supported by mobile teams.

First in line for vaccines should be those who are at risk due to their age or pre-existing conditions, particularly people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, the German research centre Leopoldina and the Ethics Council said in a position paper on priorities for vaccine delivery on Monday.

The second group should include those exposed to the virus through their jobs, such as front-line healthcare workers, who could also spread infections to vulnerable people.

For the third group, the experts proposed those who are needed to maintain public life, including health authority officials, police and security staff, firefighters and teachers.

Detailed recommendations will only be possible once late-stage data on the characteristics of vaccines is available, the experts said.

The German health ministry expects seven potential vaccines to complete testing this year or next, and is anticipating the first approvals in the first quarter of 2021, according to a copy of its national vaccine strategy paper seen by Reuters.

Vaccination will not be mandatory. The German government will pay for the vaccines, while the cost of setting up vaccination centres will be borne by the states and public and private health insurers where appropriate.

To get an overview on the effectiveness of the vaccines, Germany will collect non-personal data including information on age, sex, place of residence, vaccination date, vaccine product and vaccination dose administered, the ministry paper says.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Caroline Copley; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Michelle Adair and Jan Harvey