The Permanent Vaccination Commission (Stiko) recommends booster vaccinations because of the Omikron variant of the coronavirus already after at least three instead of six months. The recommendation to the shortened inoculation distance is valid immediately for adults, communicated the committee on Tuesday.
It is aimed at improving protection against severe disease caused by omicron in the population and reducing transmission of the variant, it said. Omicron is expected to dominate the infection scene in this country "within a very short period of time," he said.
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach called the Stiko recommendation "very valuable and correct". It allows a faster campaign of booster vaccinations against Omikron, the SPD politician wrote on Twitter.
According to the Stiko, older and previously ill people should receive the injection preferentially because of their higher risk of Covid 19. The two mRNA vaccines used for boosters (Biontech/Pfizer’s Comirnaty and Moderna’s Spikevax) are "completely equivalent in terms of efficacy".
Current data indicated significantly reduced vaccine protection after basic immunization compared with the Omikron variant, the Stiko explained. This decreases significantly after three to four months. However, after a booster vaccination, the protective effect against symptomatic infection increases significantly again with the Omikron variant, he said. At present, it can be assumed that the protection against severe courses will also increase. Nothing can be said about the duration of protection at this time, he said.
The Stiko had previously recommended that booster vaccination should generally be given six months apart from the last vaccine dose of basic immunization. Shortening the vaccination interval to five months could be considered "in individual cases or if sufficient capacities are available". For the immunocompromised, an even shorter interval between the second and third dose was already possible. Tuesday’s change, unlike some previous updates, is already a final Stiko recommendation.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) had recently announced that booster vaccinations could be given after just three months. Biontech founder Ugur Sahin had also advocated an earlier third vaccination because of Omikron. In the state of Berlin, the shortened vaccination interval to three months had already been announced on Monday in view of an expected Stiko recommendation. The RKI estimates the risk for twice vaccinated and convalescents since Monday because of Omikron as high. For the unvaccinated, the risk remains "very high," says the young woman. For people with booster vaccination, the institute spoke of moderate risk. Scientists have already documented Omikron infections in people who had already received a booster vaccination.
Boosters alone not enough
Experts stressed that boosters alone against the highly mutated Omikron variant may not be sufficient. "A massive expansion of the booster campaign can slow down the momentum and thus reduce the extent, but not prevent it," said, for example, a statement by the German government’s new expert council, of which Stiko chief Thomas Mertens is a member. According to mathematical models, overloading the health care system and limiting critical infrastructure could only be "contained together with strong contact reductions". Similarly expressed itself on Tuesday also the Robert cook institute.
Immunologists, on the other hand, had judged boosting in immunologically healthy people to be of little use after an even shorter period of time, about four weeks. The booster would then be much less effective because certain immunological processes had not yet been completed.