Although Germany is nearly 70% fully vaccinated—and the overwhelming majority of people 18 and up are immunized—the number of COVID-19 cases now skyrockets as a fourth wave sweeps through Germany and other parts of Europe. With vaccines that only last a few months before breakthrough infections are frequently happening, authorities now must factor in ongoing pandemic conditions, at least for the short run.

The Numbers

Germany has experienced a few surges of infections starting in March and April of 2020 and then a massive second surge between October 2020 and the end of 2020. A mass vaccination campaign went into full gear in the new year; however, by March 2021, cases started spiking again.

However, by May 2021, cases plummeted as undoubtedly, vaccination was helping along with several public health measures taken by health authorities led by German Health Minister Jens Spahn. By July 1, 2021, the average number of new cases (7-day average) was down to 578 per day, the lowest number of infections since earlier in 2020. However, infections started creeping upward in August, and by September 10, the 7-day average of new infections spiked to 10,858 per day. But again, with intensive vaccination, the general consensus was that the cases would be headed back down.

However, TrialSite has followed nation after nation that is heavily vaccinated yet still become subjected to intensive surges, from Israel and Iceland to Seychelles and Ireland to pockets in America. Breakthrough infections were on the rise as study after study indicated the vaccine effectiveness wanes after a few months, leading to higher transmissibility among even the vaccinated.

Now Germany finds itself headed back into a crisis. Cases skyrocketed on November 3 as 34,498 new cases were reported with a seven-day average of 19,907 according to data from the COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Moreover, while the overall death rate is down due to a confluence of factors—including vaccination, more care options, and wiser public health measures—they are on the way back up. For example, by August 15, the number of new deaths reported nationwide in this country of over 80 million was 4 for the day and 12 on a seven-day average. That rate exploded to 165 on November 3, or 101 on a seven-day average. A disturbing trend, to say the least.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said that the country was facing a “massive” pandemic, declaring to German media Bild that the unvaccinated were the problem. 

Not Just the Unvaccinated

But this just isn’t the case. German media such as DW reports that breakthrough cases are on a steady rise as thousands of inoculated people get sick.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work, but it does mean that A) they don’t provide 100% protection, and B) many studies now evidence that after a few months, the durability of the vaccines is in question. According to a recent national Swedish study, the Pfizer vaccine effectiveness wanes after month three, and by month six, the vaccine provides little protection from breakthrough infections. However, the vaccines may continue to provide more protection against more serious infection after month six. The point here is vaccination overall helps stop more severe disease and hospitalization. Still, months after the second dose, the durability comes into question—more breakthrough infections and transmission occur from the vaccinated to the vaccinated or the vaccinated to the unvaccinated as well as the unvaccinated to the vaccinated.

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