Current Status of COVID-19 Vaccinations in Germany

By Wolfgang Ernst, Christian Lindenthal


On 26th December 2020, Edith Kwoizalla, a 101-year-old woman living in a retirement home was the first person in Germany to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Successfully vaccinating the first patients within one year of the global pandemic becoming public was preceded by a unique multidisciplinary effort to research, approve, produce and distribute the vaccine.

The European regulatory authority EMA recommended the Comirnaty vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech in cooperation with Fosun Pharma and Pfizer, for approval in Europe on December 21, 2020 for persons aged 16 years and older. The EU Commission granted approval on the same day. Initially called BNT162b2, the vaccine also received a new name as part of the approval: The mRNA, the active ingredient, was called "Tozinameran", and the trade name of the vaccine is "Comirnaty". Comirnarty is as of now the only vaccine being administered in Germany. AstraZeneca filed for approval of the Corona vaccine AZD1222 on January 12, 2021. On January 06, 2021, Moderna's Corona vaccine mRNA-1273 received conditional approval for the EU. Both of those vaccines are expected to be rolled out in Germany, too, shortly. However, both AstraZeneca as well as BioNtech/Pfizer have already announced significant delays in shipping out their vaccines. In view of these issues the EU is already debating whether to implement restrictions on the export of vaccines out of the EU. Some politicians call on this measure to ensure a fair distribution of vaccines manufactured in the EU. These emerging debates highlight that bottlenecks in the supply of vaccines could lead to (legal) disputes between manufacturers of those and countries ordering the vaccine or also lead to international conflicts concerning the allocation of vaccine doses.

As demand for receiving the COVID-19 vaccination will for the foreseeable future exceed the supply, the German Ministry of Health on 15. December 2021 issued the Ordinance on the entitlement to protective vaccination against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus-Impfverordnung - CoronaImpfV). This sets out the order of the groups of people to receive the vaccination. Pursuant to Sec. 2 of the CoronaImpfV, the current group being vaccinated are people above 80, those working or living in retirement homes, persons working in areas of medical facilities with a very high risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, especially in intensive care units, emergency rooms, ambulance services or comparable medical services. As of 22. January 2021, 1.469,353 of those group have been vaccinated.

Second in line are inter alia people who are at least 70 years old, those with trisomy 21, dementia, an intellectual disability or after organ transplants, close contacts of pregnant women or people in need of care as well as police and law enforcement officers who are at high risk of infection.

Then, persons who are at least 60 years old, persons who have a medical history, such as HIV infection, diabetes mellitus, or cancer, personnel in daycare centers, schools, and retail stores, personnel with relevant positions, such as in the pharmacy industry, water and energy supply, or telecommunications, personnel with relevant positions, such as in governments, the judiciary, or police and fire departments are due to be vaccinated.

Only thereafter will the broad population gain access to the vaccine. Currently, this is expected to be in late 2021/early 2022, but with delays in distribution and delivery already ramping up, it remains to be seen whether this deadline can be kept.

Currently there are no special rights for people vaccinated against the coronavirus - at least not on the basis of state regulations. In the private sector, according to media reports, for example, airlines are considering allowing only vaccinated persons on board an aircraft.

As the number of vaccinated people continues to rise, the question of special rights may become more pressing, at least in the private sector. The basic rule under German law is that anyone who allows other people access to premises may, in principle, make such access dependent on certain conditions. For example, it is legally conceivable that a restaurant operator will in future make entry to the restaurant dependent on the guest having been vaccinated. However, politicians are currently debating whether special rights for vaccinated persons should be forbidden in order not to lead to a de-facto obligation to get vaccinated.