BERLIN – Calls are growing in Germany to punish people who squeeze to the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines after several cases in which officials allegedly queue-jumped and received shots while millions of people wait for their turn.
The head of a trust that operates three hospitals in northwestern Germany apologized to staff members Wednesday for getting vaccinated ahead of doctors and nurses at the facilities.
German public broadcaster NDR reported that fewer than 400 of the 2,500 staff members at the hospitals in Aurich, Emden and Norden have gotten vaccines so far and the ones still waiting include employees who work in intensive care units and COVID-19 wards.
The trust's chief executive, Claus Eppmann, said he accepted an invitation to get a shot on Jan. 9, the first day a hospital received vaccine supplies, and that he has since received his second dose, too. The trust, which is publicly owned, said the doses had to be used quickly and medical staff weren't on hand that day.
“I take full and sole responsibility,” Eppmann said in a letter to hospital staff obtained by The Associated Press. He said the decision to accept the invitation was wrong and he regretted it.
“At no point did I intend to gain personal advantage due to my role or function in the company, nor did I want to withhold or take anything away from (other) employees,” he said.
Earlier this week, a senior Red Cross manager in the city of Hamburg left his post after criticism that he and other managers had used surplus vaccines from a supply the aid group was tasked with administering to elderly people in nursing homes.
According to the German government’s priority list, coronavirus vaccines were initially reserved for those over age 80, people living or working in nursing homes, and hospital staff treating particularly vulnerable patients. Managers and office workers are not on the list.
Germany’s Foundation for Patient Protection said it was aware of cases in which the priority list had been ignored and complained that there are no penalties for skipping ahead.
“If the health minister is serious about having a fair solution, then there need to be consequences for those who depart from it,” Eugen Brysch, the head of the foundation, told The Associated Press.
Brysch said it would be best if vaccines were reserved for the very oldest and sickest in society until they have all received their shots.
Germany's vaccine rollout has been sluggish and plagued by technical difficulties. So far, about 2 million people in the country of 83 million have received their first shots, compared to about 10 million in Britain — which has a population of about 67 million.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said the frustration felt by some in the European Union’s most populous nation might be a response to the initial euphoria about the start of Germany's vaccination campaign shortly after Christmas.
“In retrospect, we -- and I personally -- should have engaged more strongly, much more strongly, in expectation management. That would perhaps have prevented some disappointment," he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to offer every adult in Germany a coronavirus vaccination by Sept. 21, days before the country's parliamentary election.
Geir Moulson contributed to this story.
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