The most important facts about the corona vaccination

Which vaccines against Covid-19 are already approved? How do mRNA vaccines work? And how safe are you? An overview

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This article reflects the state of knowledge as of the date specified. It is updated regularly according to the latest knowledge.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is comparatively new to mankind. It was only a year ago that there were first cases in humans. Our immune system first has to arm itself against it and vaccines take a long time to develop. In the meantime, different countries have developed vaccines against Covid-19, as the disease caused by the virus is called. We present the most important ones for Germany.

Which vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are already approved?

On December 21, 2020, the European Commission granted conditional approval for the first vaccine. It is the mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 from BioNTech / Pfizer, which was developed in Germany. In the EU it is marketed under the name "Comirnaty".

On January 6th, 2021 a further conditional approval of a vaccine was granted in the EU. This is also an mRNA vaccine from the US company Moderna.

The vaccine from the British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca received approval at the end of January. This made it the third vaccine against COVID-19 to be approved in the EU. At the moment it is only recommended for vaccinating people aged 60 and over in Germany.

On March 15, the vaccination with AstraZeneca was suspended in Germany, because at that time in seven cases (out of around 1.6 million vaccine doses administered) a sinus vein thrombosis (cerebral vein thrombosis) had developed in connection with the vaccination. After the cases were assessed by the EMA (European Medicines Agency), vaccination with AstraZeneca was resumed. Due to a few other cases of sinus vein thrombosis, a changed vaccination recommendation has been in effect in Germany since April 1, 2021: As a rule, AstraZeneca should only be injected into people aged 60 and over.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute points out that people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca and feel increasingly unwell more than four days after the vaccination - for example with severe and persistent headaches or punctiform skin bleeding - immediately get in seek medical treatment.

A fourth vaccine also received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in mid-March: the preparation from the US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. This vaccine only needs to be administered once compared to the other three vaccines. However, the company is now delaying the launch of the vaccine in Europe because reports of sinus vein thrombosis have also been received with this vaccine. (See also the section "What side effects are currently known?")

What is mRNA vaccination?

With an mRNA vaccination, certain parts of the coronavirus genome are administered to a person in a targeted manner in the form of messenger RNA. As a result, certain proteins typical of the coronavirus are formed in the body, which are harmless, but against which the body immediately forms antibodies. You are practically instructing the human body to produce its own vaccine. In this way you imitate the natural viral infection and activate the body's own defense mechanism without risking infection. Our video explains what exactly happens in the body during the mRNA vaccination:

How effective are the mRNA vaccines?

As far as we know, around 95 out of 100 people who are vaccinated are protected from Covid-19 for seven to fourteen days (depending on the vaccine) after the second vaccination. How long the vaccination protection lasts is currently not known. Presumably, if they are infected with SARS-CoV-2 despite being vaccinated, vaccinated people shed fewer viruses than unvaccinated people. Nevertheless, according to the Robert Koch Institute, it can be assumed that despite being vaccinated, one can become infected and then the virus is also eliminated. Therefore, people with vaccination should continue to pay attention to the hygiene rules.

What side effects are currently known?

If you get a vaccination, the immune system then deals with the vaccine. This can lead to so-called vaccination reactions at the injection site, such as pain and redness. There may also be other after-effects in the body, for example a slight feeling of flu and exhaustion. This is an expression of the body's immune response.

According to current knowledge, mRNA vaccines can lead to pain at the injection site, exhaustion, headache, muscle and joint pain, fever, chills and gastrointestinal problems, among other things, according to the current knowledge. These symptoms should go away after a few days. In individual cases, severe allergic reactions have occurred.

With the AstraZeneca vaccine, in addition to vaccination reactions such as pain at the injection site, fever and exhaustion, in very rare cases blood clots (thromboses) in cerebral veins, so-called sinus vein thromboses, occurred in connection with the vaccination.

Who is being vaccinated in Germany right now?

Groups of people with a particularly high risk of serious or fatal disease progression should be the first to receive the vaccination - as well as groups who are particularly exposed at work or who have close contact with risk groups. Specifically, these are:

  • Residents of retirement and nursing homes
  • People over 80 years
  • medical staff who look after the high-risk groups or who are themselves at high risk of contracting the coronavirus

The vaccination progress differs depending on the region. People over 70, people with certain chronic illnesses or cancer in need of treatment, up to two close contact persons of pregnant women or those in need of care are, for example, already vaccinated in some cases.

How many people have already been vaccinated in Germany?

A map from the Robert Koch Institute shows how many percent of people in the federal states have already received a first and second vaccination against the coronavirus.

You can also find further figures and statistics on the progress of the mass vaccination under the vaccination dashboard of the Ministry of Health, including information on the daily vaccination doses and vaccine deliveries.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute developed the SafeVac 2.0 smartphone app so that vaccinated people can provide digital information on how they tolerated the vaccination. In this way, participants can actively contribute to gaining further knowledge about COVID-19 vaccines.

How should the vaccination be carried out by the family doctor?

Since April 6, 2021, people have not only been vaccinated in vaccination centers, but also in general practitioners' practices. How they organize the vaccination or the scheduling of appointments is up to each practice. In this way, the doctors can make targeted appointments with the patients who are in a high priority group and for which a severe course of the disease is likely.

Since the vaccine is not yet sufficiently available, the general practitioners' practices should also adhere to the currently applicable prioritization. The number of vaccination doses that a practice receives per week is also limited at the beginning.

You can hear more about this in our Corona podcast:

More vaccine candidates

Various vaccine candidates are still under development or testing. Ultimately, they all follow a similar approach: Individual, non-contagious parts of Sars-CoV-2 are presented to our immune system (so-called antigens). The hope is that the body will produce its own defense substances (antibodies) against the components of the virus and thus arm its own immune system. The different vaccine candidates use different approaches:

mRNA vaccines

In addition to the two approved mRNA vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna, there is another German biotechnology company from Tübingen that is pursuing the same approach.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has started a quick test procedure for its vaccine. Approval is expected around June.

Modified virus as vaccination base (vector viruses)

In the already approved vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, a harmless virus that does not make you sick is coupled with fragments of the corona virus. This principle is called the vector vaccine. The researchers at the DZIF (German Center for Infection Research) and scientists at the Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich (LMU) are also working on vector vaccines. The plan: If the modified harmless virus is given to a person as a vaccination, they cannot become ill - but the immune system still produces antibodies (antibodies) against the corona parts of the "vaccine virus". In this way, the immune cells get to know the new virus and remember it as a target. These antibodies could protect those affected from infection with the "real" coronavirus in the future.

Dead vaccines (inactivated viruses)

Several companies around the world are working on the classic vaccination process against corona with dead vaccines. Inactive, "dead" Sars-CoV-2 viruses are used for this. They were previously changed in such a way that they can no longer reproduce. These inactivated viruses are recognized as "foreign" by the body, which triggers its own immune reaction, but no longer causes disease.