Tactical shift: Europe seeks vaccine 'overdrive' to catch up

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FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, cabins of a vaccine center that was introduced to the media are seen in Wiesbaden, Germany. With accusations of being slow off the blocks in the race to immunize its citizens against COVID-19, Germany faces the problem of having a glut of vaccines and not enough arms to inject. With its national vaccine campaign lagging far behind that of Israel, Britain and the United States, there are growing calls in this country of 83 million to ditch or rewrite the rulebook. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, FILE)

BERLIN – Slow off the blocks in the race to immunize its citizens against COVID-19, Germany faces an unfamiliar problem: a glut of vaccines and not enough arms to inject them into.

Like other countries in the European Union, its national vaccine campaign lags far behind that of Israel, Britain and the United States. On Wednesday the government gave in to growing calls in this country of 83 million to ditch the rulebook that many have blamed for holding Germany back.

“We want to use all flexibility,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after lengthy negotiations with state governors in Berlin on adjusting pandemic measures.

Germany will follow the lead of other countries in extending the length of time between first and second shots as much as possible, allowing more people to get the initial dose and cutting the number held back to a minimum.

After initially limiting the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 65, an independent expert committee is likely to recommend lifting that restrictions, said Merkel.

Vaccines that aren't taken up by those they're offered to will be made available to others, too, she added.

The measures sweep aside many of the rigid rules German officials have repeated in recent weeks — including Merkel, who said recently that at 66, she would not be taking the AstraZeneca vaccine because it wasn't approved for her.

The decision comes as Germany's stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccine doses looked set to top 2 million this week due to the restrictions it had imposed, even as many in the country wonder why they aren't being offered a shot.