When Lothar Wieler still considered the corona outbreak in Wuhan to be a local problem in China, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Tureci made the decision on January 25, 2020 to start the Lightspeed project with their company Biontech: the development of a vaccine based on mRNA .
At that time there were fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases worldwide, but Sahin had studied the infection patterns in a specialist journal over the weekend – and the transport links from the metropolis of Wuhan to all over the world.
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The President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) first had to get used to the situation, which was rapidly developing into a pandemic, step by step, to organize and sort out all the daily flow of numbers at regional incidences and intensive care bed occupancy.
It was not until April 2020 that citizens should wear protective masks in places with many contacts, the time for fabric and makeshift masks that can be sewn at home, as recommended by the RKI.
Everyone is fallible in such a pandemic, as it was again and again with the thoughtful Lothar Wieler, the head of the federal authority responsible for fighting pandemic. But last week there was a new Wieler, the pandemic assessor broke the collar.
In the summer, the pandemic seemed to be over for many citizens, politicians, but also the media, in the federal election campaign nobody really paid any attention to evidence that the protective effect of the vaccinations was waning faster than expected.
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During a visit to the RKI on July 13th, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) promised, after French President Emmanuel Macron had announced a compulsory vaccination for carers, among others, the day before: “We do not intend to take the path proposed by France. We said there would be no compulsory vaccination. ”France is much better off today.
At the end of August, Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) said in Munich that 60 percent of citizens were now vaccinated twice: “Therefore, there will definitely no longer be any lockdown or restrictions like we had.” Since then, the vaccination rate has only been 68 percent gone up.
SPD Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz said in the ARD “Wahlarena” at the beginning of September: “Corona will soon be over.” And the last few weeks were also planned by hesitation and the tussle about the new infection protection law between the outgoing and the future government.
On July 22nd, the RKI set out exactly which fourth wave is threatened with which vaccination quota
The RKI had already presented exact model calculations on July 22nd, which could threaten with which vaccination rate due to the highly contagious Delta variant in autumn. Even with a rate of 75 percent, there could be over 6000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units by November – without any reduction in contact.
According to the modeling, most infections could affect adults under 60 and children under 12. And higher vaccination rates of 85 to 95 percent, changes in behavior and early preventive measures allow the curves to flatten significantly – Wieler had always warned that the pandemic would only be under control at a vaccination rate of around 85 percent.
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Now the vaccination rate has remained below expectations of at least 75 percent – similar to Austria – and the situation surpasses the RKI scenarios from July, which were not once criticized as alarmist by many. Even then, the federal authority emphasized: “A higher proportion of” vaccination breakthroughs “or reinfections could increase the proportion of serious illnesses.”
The RKI therefore advises on July 22nd to plan booster vaccinations “now”, especially for the elderly and risk groups.
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In addition, a change in the test strategy could “lead to an increase in underreporting” in certain age groups, the RKI warned at the time. By abolishing the free rapid tests, the vaccination pressure should be increased, at the same time the number of tests decreased.
The wave was able to build up largely unnoticed and at breakneck speed because the number of unreported infections was so high. In terms of communication, the following was addressed to the federal government in July: the population should be informed in good time that the health care system could become heavily burdened and possibly overloaded again in winter; for example with the ECMO capacity, special machines for patients with severe lung failure.
The behavior of each individual has an influence on the extent and the consequences of the infections in autumn and winter. But with all that one went unheard.
Almost at the same time, the virologist Christian Drosten also warned of the risk of a strong fourth wave if the vaccination rate was not increased significantly. He made himself increasingly rare in public, he said of “Die Zeit”: “I don’t want to become a parrot who always spreads the same message.”
Two appearances that are different from the previous ones
First of all, Wieler let go of all consideration last Wednesday evening, in an online switch with Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU). “If we could ask you to take a piece with you and give us your opinion,” says Kretschmer at the beginning.
And the transmitted status is more than clear. Wieler, in a blue sweater, is connected from his apartment. Behind the number of 52,000 new infections on the day would be “at least twice or three times as many”. Precisely because much less has been tested recently. And he emphasizes: “In the last few weeks we have had a case fatality rate, that is, a rate of reports about deceased persons, of around 0.8 percent. That means that of these 52,000 there (…) 400 will die. ”At the federal press conference he said it more and more cautiously, at least 200.
Wieler reads the riot act to Kretschmer
“And what is important to me, everyone who listens now has to understand very clearly: there is nothing more that can be changed. We can’t change that anymore. These people are infected. 3,000 of them go to the hospital, a few hundred of them go to intensive care, just as many of them die. (…) None of us who sit here can still help these guys. It’s a bucket of water that has been poured out, you can’t get it in again. (…) The child fell into the well. “
Three million of the over-60-year-olds were not vaccinated, “if all of them were infected alone, then all of them would already be occupied by our intensive care beds – if they all came to intensive care at all”.
It is now also about the political co-responsibility, in a few days we will cross the threshold of 100,000 pandemic victims in Germany. Wieler also recalled the model calculations back in July last Friday. As in the waves before, he always sits on Fridays at 10 a.m. with Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on the podium at the federal press conference with the well-known blue wall in the background.
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The 60-year-old specialist veterinarian for microbiology has headed the RKI since 2015 and has often talked his mouth up when advising federal and state governments. He explains and admonishes in a calm voice when making public appearances. But now he doesn’t mince his words here either, slipping out of the role of the corona diplomat.
The Robert Koch Institute pointed out the impending fourth wave back in July. And Wieler makes it clear that RKI advised booster vaccination even then. Christian Drosten said he wasn’t a parrot. “I’ve been a parrot for a long time.”
The RKI boss is already warning of the 5th wave
For him it is simply no longer bearable that too little has been seen of the scope. And he does not seem to be as sure as Olaf Scholz, whom he will provide with briefings in the future instead of Angela Merkel, that the new instrument kit decided by the traffic light parties in the Bundestag will suffice.
Prime Minister Kretschmer imposed a tough lockdown in Saxony after Wieler’s fire speech. The new Infection Protection Act allows this for a transitional period, but it must end on December 15th.
And no matter how high the incidence is and how full the intensive care units are: According to the law, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants in Saxony would then have to reopen without curfew – because the federal states are prohibited from restricting their operations by the law; 2G and 2G Plus regulations so that vaccinated people do not restrict their rights.
You don’t have to be a prophet, Wieler will still have dramatic appearances in December. And maybe one should listen more to his latest warning. He now told the German Press Agency: “If the reduction in contacts and the vaccination do not succeed intensively, we will also get a fifth wave according to the current modeling.”