Just in time for autumn, an old, unloved acquaintance is back: Corona. The number of infections is rising again. At the same time, vaccination with a new modified vaccine is now starting. This is what you should know about the current situation and the new vaccine.
What is the current Corona situation in Germany?
According to the current weekly report from the Influenza Working Group, which also publishes the Covid-19 numbers, 5,102 confirmed corona infections were reported to the authorities in the 35th calendar week (August 28th to September 3rd). The coronavirus was detected in these people using a PCR test. But the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher because testing has long since ceased to be carried out across the board and the majority of infections therefore remain unconfirmed. Experts assume that the number of unreported cases is up to 90 percent. Wastewater controls in sewage treatment plants also show an increasing viral load.
In view of rising corona numbers, doctors in North Rhine-Westphalia are calling for people to wear masks voluntarily. “Especially when everyday life often takes place in closed rooms in autumn and winter, masks could become medically useful again, especially to protect vulnerable groups,” said Frank Bergmann, head of the North Rhine Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, to the “Rheinische Post” (Monday edition). This applies, for example, in old people’s and nursing homes.
However, Bergmann currently sees no reason for a new mask requirement . The head of the North Rhine Pharmacists’ Association, Thomas Preis, called for the reintroduction of free citizen tests in the newspaper. “For many families, purchasing corona tests is not financially possible,” he said. Without a citizen test or self-test, there is a risk that Corona will be overlooked and passed on.
Which variant is currently determining the infection process?
The Robert Koch Institute reports: EG.5 (“Eris”), a sub-variant of the Omicron line XBB.1.5, which has been dominant in Germany since spring, remains dominant – with a share of 46 percent of the infection rate . One variant that has not yet been detected in Germany is one that is particularly worrying for experts: “Pirola” (BA.2.86). It was first discovered in Denmark in July and has since appeared in various countries, including Switzerland, South Africa , Israel , the USA and Great Britain .
The worrying thing: Compared to XBB.1.5, “Pirola” has over 30 mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to penetrate human cells. To put it into perspective: There are two mutations between XBB.1.5 and “Eris”. The high number is therefore unusual. “Pirola” is “the most striking Covid strain that the world has seen since the creation of ‘Omicron’,” said the director of the Genetics Institute at University College London , Francois Balloux.
In an interview with t-online, Munich virologist Ulrike Protzer explained: “Studies suggest that this variant is actually better at evading immune protection. So it is better at evading the defenses built up through vaccination and/or infection. However, it also appears to be less so “It appears to be contagious and will therefore probably not be able to spread as quickly. And more good news: There is no evidence that the illnesses are more severe with this variant.”
So far there is no evidence of infection with the “Pirola” variant in Germany. “But it’s only a matter of time before it reaches us,” says Protzer.
When do the vaccinations start?
The first doses of the new vaccine are scheduled to be delivered on Monday, September 18th and will be available then. If you belong to the risk group (see next question), you should make a vaccination appointment with your family doctor.
Who should get vaccinated?
The Standing Vaccination Commission recommends that people over 60 years of age, residents of old people’s and nursing homes and people with previous illnesses receive a booster vaccination every twelve months, preferably in autumn. The recommendation also applies to medical and nursing staff whose work puts them at an increased risk of infection. Affected people should get vaccinated now before the winter season.
Which vaccine is it?
The trade name “Comirnaty 30 micrograms/dose Omicron XBB.1.5” is a modified vaccine from Biontech that is tailored to the XBB.1.5 variant (which dominated the infection process in spring and summer). The currently circulating variant “Eris” only differs in two mutations in the spike protein. The European Medicines Agency (Ema) therefore assumes that the vaccine protects better against the omicron mutant than previous vaccines.
In an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ), Biontech founder Uğur Şahin recently explained: “The virus is constantly evolving. With new variants, we use laboratory tests to check whether immune responses generated with a vaccine version are also against related variants protect. The spike proteins of EG.5 and XBB.1.5 are very similar. So I don’t think we need to adapt the vaccine because of EG.5.”
Does the vaccine also work against “Pirola”?
First of all: It is still unclear whether the new variant will prevail and whether it will determine the infection process at some point. Because: It is less contagious. Nevertheless, it seems to better undermine the immune protection that has been built up so far through vaccination and/or infection.
Experts are still wondering whether the vaccines now available would be equally effective against the variant. The US health authority CDC assumes in a statement that the updated vaccine will be effective in reducing severe illness and hospitalizations even with BA.2.86.
However, Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Medicine, cautions: “I suspect that it will also provide additional protection against infections, but it will not be 100 percent.”Virologist Ulrike Protzer also sees it this way: “I expect the vaccines to be effective. Eris and XBB.1.5 only differ in a few mutations. And although Pirola has significantly more mutations, initial studies show that the vaccines are effective here too “So if Pirola really prevails, the vaccines will still be effective. But we have to be clear: There is no such thing as 100 percent protection, but vaccination is still our most effective weapon.”