German immunologists have warned that fundamental misunderstandings about the way vaccines work persist among the population, after the Bayern Munich and Germany footballer Joshua Kimmich confirmed over the weekend that he had declined to receive a Covid jab due to concerns over long-term side-effects.
“I have concerns about the lack of long-term studies,” the 26-year-old told the broadcaster Sky Sport. “I am of course aware of my responsibility. I follow all hygiene measures and get tested every two to three days. Everyone should make the decision for themselves.”
The midfielder, who captained his country in Germany’s 2-1 victory over Romania earlier this month, denied he was an anti-vaxxer and said he had not ruled out eventually receiving a vaccine: “There is a very good chance that I will still get vaccinated.”
News of his unvaccinated status came as a surprise because Kimmich, who has played for his country 64 times, had been widely lauded for his mature leadership off the field. Along with his Bayern teammate Leon Goretzka, Kimmich last March set up the philanthropic initiative WeKickCorona to support charities and medical facilities requiring immediate help as a result of the pandemic.
“Everyone can do their own bit to ensure that the coronavirus won’t spread any further,” reads a statement on the campaign’s website.
Bayern Munich has urged all of its players and staff to receive a Covid vaccine, and its longtime executive board chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, on Sunday criticised Kimmich’s reluctance: “As a role model, but also as a sheer fact, it would be better if he was vaccinated,” the club legend said.
Some Bundesliga clubs only allow fans into their stadiums if they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus, while Bayern also admits supporters into the Allianz Arena if they can show proof of a negative PCR test.
The chair of Germany’s top vaccine advisory body, Thomas Mertens, said Kimmich was mistaken if he believed there were no designated long-term studies, or that monitoring programmes were not looking closely at serious side-effects.
“It’s clear that there can’t be any 10-year observational studies for vaccines that have been in use for barely a year,” Mertens told the dpa news agency. The scientific consensus among the medical community was that side-effects that only revealed themselves at a late stage “do not exist, or are an extreme rarity”, he added.
Carsten Watzl, the scientific director of the department of immunology at Technical University Dortmund, said it was a common “misunderstanding” that vaccines could have long-term effects that showed up years after the first and second shot.
“Say: I let myself get vaccinated and perhaps next year I will have some grave side-effects. That’s not how it works,” Watzl told the public broadcaster ARD. “The side-effects of a vaccine always appear directly after the vaccination, within a few weeks.”
Unlike drugs, which can build up in the body after prolonged use, vaccines are designed to perform a one-off function and degrade rapidly.
Kimmich voiced his scepticism as Germany’s vaccination rates continue to trail similarly sized European nations and infection rates climb again at the end of the autumn holidays.
Almost 70% of Germany’s population have received at least one shot of vaccine against the virus, with 66% fully immunised. The country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, has announced a target of vaccinating 85% of those aged 12 to 59, and 90% of people over 60.
The institute on Monday reported 6,573 new infections within the last 24 hours, a 60% week-on-week rise.