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After 10 months of quarantine, chronically ill young German jumps vaccine queue

NIEDERBREITBACH, Germany (Reuters) - Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, chronically ill 30-year-old Benni Over has lived in strict domestic quarantine in the German resort town of Niederbreitbach with his parents, who look after him around the clock.

As a result of his illness, the muscle-wasting disorder Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Over can move only his fingers and has to receive mechanical ventilation, which means a COVID-19 infection would be very difficult for the family to deal with.

“Above all, there was the concern that Benni could not continue his treatment. It was very important for us to get a vaccination so that we could let the therapists in again,” Benni’s father Klaus Over told Reuters in an interview.

However, young people with severe illnesses who do not live in nursing homes did not fall under Germany’s early vaccination guidelines until two weeks ago, when it became clear to German health authorities that there are many people like Benni and that their needs should be reflected in the regulations.

“We were taken by complete surprise that people like Benni - high-risk patient, care level five, rare illness, home care - are not listed there at all,” the father said.

In mid-December, Benni turned to Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn with a dramatic video appeal in which he requested a vaccination as soon as possible.

“Minister Spahn, please understand: People who suffer from the most severe illnesses are also part of this!”

POLICY SHIFT

Benni and his parents were finally able to receive their first vaccine dose on Jan. 7 after the intervention of Malu Dreyer, premier of their home state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

“We simply looked for a solution together. That should always be possible in our world,” said Dreyer.

Germany changed its recommendations on Jan. 8 to include vulnerable people with serious health conditions among those to be given top priority for vaccinations, along with the over-80s, nursing home residents and staff and healthcare workers.

Commenting on the change, a spokesman for the Rhineland-Palatinate health ministry said: “There will be a special committee to look after these people. They have to write to us and we will check if it is okay for them to get a vaccination.”

After receiving his second dose of the vaccine, Benni hopes to have an overdue medical procedure done and to continue a project supporting the rescue of orangutans in Indonesia, about which he wrote a children’s book.

Nearly 1.4 million people in Germany have now received a first vaccine shot against COVID-19 out of a total population of about 83 million. Germany has recorded 2.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 50,000 deaths since last March.

Reporting by Hakan Erdem, Frank Simon and Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Gareth Jones

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