Germany’s fridges are filled with Oxford jabs. But there's a problem: 80 per cent of the 735,000 doses delivered to Germany so far have not been used. The vaccine is being described in the German press as a 'shelf warmer'. There are even reports of people missing appointments at vaccination centres if they have been notified that they will receive the AstraZeneca product.
While this is alarming, a lukewarm reaction to the vaccine might not come as a surprise. The vaccine's reputation has been repeatedly undermined by reports about its efficacy. A decision in Germany not to use the vaccine for over-65-year-olds, despite the European Medicines Agency having approved it to be given to all adults, has hardly helped.
Now, German politicians – fearful of the 'third wave' of Covid-19, which Angela Merkel warned about last night – are pleading with people to go and take the jab. Some local administrations are even taking away the freedom of choice, meaning that those who are scheduled to be vaccinated can no longer deny a certain product.
Michael Muller, the mayor of Berlin, has threatened to send people to the back of the vaccination queue if they refuse the jab and ask for the more popular Pfizer vaccine.
‘I won’t allow tens of thousands of doses to lie around on our shelves while millions of people across the country are waiting to be immunised,’ he told the city’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. ‘Those who don’t want the vaccine have missed their chance.’
But delaying the vaccination of those who refuse a particular jab will do little to help speed up the vaccine roll-out.
If some of the blame for this lies with German leaders, could AstraZeneca itself do more to help change the image of its vaccine in the minds of the German public? The company’s vice president for Germany, Klaus Hinterding, agreed to an interview with business newspaper Wirtschaftswoche, in which he pointed at new positive data coming out of Scotland suggesting that the first dose of the vaccine can already reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 by 94 per cent.
But instead of appearing in media outlets with limited audiences, AstraZeneca might have to launch a full-throttle PR campaign in Germany to undo the damage of the unfair early briefings made against the vaccine.
Meanwhile, millions of Germans are yet to be vaccinated. Four per cent of Germans have received at least one dose. But this pales in comparison to Britain, which has administered jabs to 27 per cent of people.
In the fight against Covid-19, Germany's government could come to regret its early criticism of a vaccine which is proving to be an effective weapon.