Germany has begun its planning and infrastructure set up to help get the Covid-19 vaccine distributed across the breadth of the nation. In addition to making the systems and protocols ready to take up such a huge delivery of vaccine doses, there is another problem. The government itself doesn’t know which vaccine to order and in what quantities.
Currently, Germany is at #10 in the list of affected countries with 42000+ deaths due to the pandemic.
This is why the federal and state governments are pitching in with their efforts so that vaccines that are ready to be shipped don’t get entangled in logistical nightmares.
The task is pretty huge. The federal government will comply with the EU norms and connect with the six pharma companies authorized to work on possible vaccines in the continent. The federal government would procure these doses and distribute them among the 60 distribution centers set up across the nation.
After this step, the state government will come into the picture. Every state has a dedicated vaccination center. Interestingly, private practitioners have been kept out of the loop for now. The reason behind this logic is that the regular GPs don’t have the logistical or storage capacity to retain the viability of the vaccine doses for the prescribed amount of time without it getting damaged.
At the forefront of the list of beneficiaries are the country’s elderly. They are the ones more susceptible to the ravaging impact of the virus. Germany has over 5 million people over the age of 80. They are slated to be the first ones to receive the doses. Next are the healthcare workers and other people in jobs that are critical for smooth operations of public life.
A challenge is to reach out to people in the semi-urban and rural areas. A distinctive trait in these areas is that they are sparsely populated and spread over a large land area. As such, it becomes difficult for the elderly to visit the vaccination centers at the appointed date for their inoculation. Many elderly in these rural areas support the opinion that the vaccination done by their family doctors at their own homes is the best way to get the shots administered. This way, they won’t have to travel to the vaccination centers, which are set up mostly in urban areas. They will be saved from traveling as much as 40 kilometers, which is a drastic step for the elderly who may have limited mobility to cope with such travels’ rigors.
Another problem is the storage issue. Almost all healthcare facilities in these areas aren’t equipped to keep the vaccines at the prescribed temperature. The Pfizer vaccine is viable at an ultra-low temperature of -70°C, while Moderna’s vaccine will remain stable at -20°C. This needs specialized equipment like ultra-low temperature freezers. Then there are other equipments like vials, syringes, masks, gloves, swabs, and needles. Together they present an enormous logistical challenge to transport the vaccines from the source to their destination.
The current scenario
While the infrastructure was set up in November, we see a fairly typical scenario as we move to two months later. The vaccine doses simply aren’t being administered as quickly as the government would like to. The supply chain pace has definitely been sluggish, and people who were supposed to be the first beneficiaries of the doses are complaining of long delays in getting the shots.
As a result, people have learned one thing. They need a tremendous amount of patience to get through to the appointment hotline and get themselves inoculated. The problem is compounded by the fear that they might be the next ones affected by the pandemic, which sees no signs of slowing down.
Social media is rife with complaints from senior citizens. They aren’t able to reach the national hotline to book appointments. They have to spend several days trying to reach out to the line. There are others who get through, only to be told that there are no slots available.
The logistical breakdown means that the country is enlisting help from the military and civilians. This way, they are hoping to get enough hands on deck to facilitate the safe shipping of the valuable doses from manufacturing plants to secret storage facilities before being distributed.
The German government is well on track to procure around 300 million doses from three manufacturers. CureVac is one such company based in Tuebingen, which says that its vaccines need not comply with the Moderna or Pfizer doses’ super low-temperature requirement. Instead, the CureVac doses can be kept at regular freezer temperature for up to three months. The only hitch is that they haven’t progressed as far as Pfizer in terms of trials and gauging the efficacy of the doses.
Germany’s procurement order of 300 million will kick in only when all doses under the development phase will hit the market. This way, the entire 83 million-strong population of Germany can be inoculated easily, even with the two-dose requirement.
Germany has a robust plan in place to ensure that the supply aligns with the demand. Once they reach this stage, they can move to Phase 2 of the plan, where even general practitioners will have access to the vaccine.