It is recognized that people who have been fully vaccinated nationwide will soon be able to look forward to relaxation. Epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs also believes this is necessary. In an interview with ntv, he explains how high the residual risk is for those affected, and whether there is now a reversal of trend in the infection process.
ntv: The debate about the rights and freedoms that people who have been vaccinated should restore is afoot. There is also a suggestion from the Minister of Justice that communication restrictions and curfews for people who have been vaccinated should be lifted. Is this true from an epidemiological point of view?
Timo Ulrich: Yes, in any case, pollinators should in principle be treated as if they were out of the game. This means that they are no longer vulnerable to contracting the virus – and according to all we know – they also cannot transmit it. This means that it is no longer necessary to treat them as if there is still a danger to the environment. Because of this, all of the restricted rights can then be reinstated. This is very important and needs to be done now quickly. Then you also save a lot of resources. For example when testing.
What does this look like in practice? A police officer cannot know if someone has been vaccinated or not when he meets them on the street at night.
It is true. From a purely practical point of view, it would be nice if all of these things that we have now were kept as restrictions – keeping your distance from wearing a mask and so on – in public places, for example also on local public transport. Because this should apply equally to everyone, so that the image is also consistent and everyone can adhere to all the rules. But when it comes to editorials, which we hope we can discuss again soon, and also when we allow people to meet each other indoors, for example in nursing homes and nursing homes, those who have been vaccinated should take back those rights.
So, the fact that you continue to wear the mask and maintain distance, for example on buses and trains, is only due to the fact that it cannot be controlled otherwise? I ask because virologist Martin Sturmer said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea because there’s still danger left.
It is true. There is residual risk, but this is very small compared to those who did not receive the vaccination and possibly also those who tested negative. Like I said, this is just a shot. You could then say you could risk letting the vaccine meet each other and so on, that’s definitely justified.
Vacation using keywords: Many families want to take a summer vacation. Is this feasible if there are vaccinated people in the family?
First you need to see how everything is handled across Europe. This is in relation to the vaccination card. But based on this condition – fully vaccinated – all of these people could, in principle, travel. You just have to know if there are non-immune family members among them. Then this is not easily possible. But we are only talking about a relatively limited period of transition. If we can now continue with vaccination at the previous pace, or perhaps even faster, then this transition period will also be relatively short.
So it is not possible, for example, for children to be screened when their parents have already been vaccinated?
Then that should be left to countries that take a vacation and receive these people as they want to deal with it. Ultimately, however, the categories are pretty straightforward. The vaccinated people are no longer in principle in this whole system, they are on the outside. Those who have tested positive are still susceptible to contracting the virus and can contract it even while they test negative. These suspicions are still much greater than those that have been vaccinated. And this is the reason for the derivation there again.
If I now say “much larger”: what is the residual risk of people who have been vaccinated compared to those who test negative quickly?
The vaccine, regardless of whether it is flexible or vector-based, is not 100 percent effective. And we’ve already seen with some vaccinated people that so-called vaccination breakouts can happen. We see this especially in the elderly, as the immune system is already weakening a little in its power to build an answer against the virus. But it is very clear that something like this can happen. But then you still have partial protection and you could potentially be infected. But we also know reports from nursing homes of this happening – even after the first vaccination. After all, these people are still protected from Covid-19 disease. That’s something. This means that you should definitely take this into consideration. However, one can say of everyone who has been vaccinated: protection is in place and it is very unlikely that the virus will be transmitted.
Cancel priority vaccination or keep it for now: Which do you think is better?
We must definitely proceed according to the vaccination schedule, according to this priority. Now it’s the turn of the third group, and that’s okay. But we will soon be able to have many vaccine shots available so we can unlock everything. This means that in the appropriate period and frequency, vaccination continues and even increases, and there is still enough to vaccinate other groups. I would like to invite children and teenagers to get this done quickly. Because we are always talking about the fact that schools and day care centers must first reopen or be protected from an outbreak, and also by all the accompanying measures before that, in order to enable schools to function again. It is for this reason that this tool should be used as soon as possible, once vaccines are approved for the younger age groups.
The number of infections is no longer increasing, it is just dropping a little. Is this bluffing or could it be a trend reversal?
This could be the shift, perhaps similar to what happened shortly before the first lockdown took effect. About a year ago we saw that these trends occurred due to declining contact numbers and reduced mobility in the population. That will be the case now, perhaps due to external conditions, that we are now entering spring and it is easier to be outside. All of that and many other factors play a role. Also, one must not forget the external conditions caused by the lockdown, including the curfew and everything associated with it in the group. This just works. We should now see that these effects also lead to a sharp drop in the number of newly infected people as quickly as possible. If we get there, we also have a small risk that we will see more victims by the time we get vaccination coverage. This is also completely unnecessary.
Your fellow scientists say they expect 50 by the summer. Is this realistic?
Yes, maybe even below. Similar to how we got it last summer. Then with vaccination we also have a chance not to rise again because the virus no longer has the opportunity to be passed on to people who do not have protection from vaccination yet.
Doro Steitz spoke to Timo Ulrichs