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How to get a Covid-19 vaccine in Berlin

As Berlin finally ramps up its Covid-19 vaccine campaign, we give you the lowdown on how you might get your hands on a shot.

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Berlin’s six vaccination centres are up and running, but appointment slots are booked out for the coming weeks. Photo: IMAGO / Jochen Eckel

As Berlin finally ramps up its Covid-19 vaccine campaign, we give you the lowdown on how you might get your hands on a shot.

Who’s included in the latest priority group?

This third priority group includes key workers such as supermarket employees, journalists, those with pre-existing conditions (like asthma, HIV and diabetes), election workers, carers and anyone working in youth services. It also includes anyone over 60. Eligible people must bring a certificate of  employment, or Arbeitgeberbescheinigung, to their vaccine appointment. Journalists should present their official press ID.

For a full list of eligible groups, see the Senat’s website [German only].

How do I get an appointment if I’m in that priority group?

It might be tough if you haven’t booked yet. Eligible people are invited to book an appointment at one of Berlin’s six vaccination centres online or by calling the Senat’s Impf-Hotline on 030 9028-2200 (7am to 6pm). Appointment slots for those vaccination centres became available for the third priority group on Monday morning. Unlike earlier groups, people in the third category don’t require a booking code, usually sent by post, to secure a slot.

Visitors to the Senat’s booking website are transferred to Doctolib, an online booking portal, where they are able choose between vaccination centres and vaccine types. If you’re able to secure an appointment for your first dose, you’ll be required to book your second jab six weeks later before completing the booking.

On Monday, slots for Moderna vaccinations were available for as early as mid-May, while BioNTech were booked out for the foreseeable future. But since Monday evening, it appears slots for all vaccine types are now booked out. An automated message asks visitors to try again in a few days.

Media reports suggest that calling the hotline only worked until 2pm Monday. After that, they were all booked out.

Anyone in the third priority group can also try booking an appointment at their GP.

I’m not a priority. Can I get the vaccine already?

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been theoretically available to everyone since April 22, but it has’t been easy to score. Due to prior safety concerns, the vaccine is meant to be booked in consultation with a doctor, who will evaluate each patient’s risk. Many practices report receiving hundreds of phone and email requests per day, so it’s unclear how far this method will get you. That said, some have managed to find last-minute appointments at paediatricians and neurologists, often through word-of-mouth.

One Neukölln surgery’s email auto-reply says it all: “Due to the massive flood of messages with partly random copy + paste CoVid vaccination requests…we are hardly able to filter out the serious enquiries of our patients.”

Vaccine shortages mean that many GPs have been running low on supplies, but that’s meant to change with the arrival of new shipments next week. For the week starting May 10, practices will be sent as many doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as they want, the Kassenärztliche Vereinigung (KV), a doctors’ association, announced on Monday. Individual doctors will also be able to order up to 36 doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, whose supplies are more limited. The KV says over 1800 practices in the capital have signed up to administer Covid-19 shots.

Appointments for AstraZeneca vaccinations can also be booked through the Doctolib portal, where users can browse Berlin practices by location and appointment type. The earliest vaccination appointment we found was for mid-June.

From June 7, the prioritisation for vaccine appointments will be lifted, meaning that anyone who wants a shot should be able to book an appointment for all of the available vaccines.

What if I don’t have a GP?

Then you could be in for a longer wait – though hope is not lost: every day the KV publishes an up-to-date table of Berlin doctors who allow unregistered patients to book an appointment or join the waiting list. Getting through is hard: many doctors are overwhelmed with patients trying to get vaccines, so the advice is to first call and then email your chosen practice and ask to be put on the waiting list. Some practices have set up automatic email replies advising of current availability. One thing you shouldn’t do is send generic emails to dozens of doctors – these are likely to go unanswered.

I’ve heard of people just turning up and getting lucky

Since the supply of vaccines to practices is sporadic, doctors may end up with more doses than appointments on a given day. In these cases, the practice will phone up the next person on the waiting list, so you should always be ready to attend at short notice if you get the call. Turning up to your doctor unannounced in the hope of getting a leftover dose is unlikely to work.

What vaccines are available?

There are three (soon four) vaccines in use in Berlin: from the UK’s Oxford/AstraZeneca, German-American partnership BioNTech/Pfizer and US firm Moderna. The latter two are RNA vaccines which have very high efficacy, but since they are hard to store they are mainly sent to the city’s vaccination centres rather than GPs. AstraZeneca is more easily handled and can be stored in a fridge. A fourth vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, is due to arrive in the coming weeks, but the Senat has said this will initially go to Berlin’s homeless population.

Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe?

While there are genuine concerns over blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the risk of developing problems is low – an estimated 0.001% according to Germany’s regulator, the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut. According to the European Medicines Agency “the benefits of Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) outweigh its risks in adults of all age groups.” That said, some Berlin GPs are sticking with STIKO’s recommendation not to give the jab to the under-60s, though a majority are willing to give it to youngsters as long as they understand the risks. 

I’m young and healthy. How long will I have to wait?

In short, if you want a vaccine, you should get one this summer. Berlin’s vaccine campaign is gathering serious steam: the city will receive over a million doses in May and the Senat says that half of Berliners will receive their first vaccination dose by June. Around 26 per cent of the city’s population have had at least a first jab. The fully vaccinated percentage of the Berlin population is just under 10 per cent.