German Health Minister Jens Spahn told German lawmakers Wednesday the nation is in one of the hardest phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, with infection rates high and a strained health care system, but an effective vaccine being delivered.
Spahn addressed the lower house of the German Parliament — the Bundestag — and defended the government choosing to wait almost two weeks to roll out its vaccine program, to coincide with the rest of the European Union.
The health minister said following the rest of Europe "is in the national interest of Germany and our citizens." He argued that staying on the same schedule as their neighbors was the best way to ensure a strong economic recovery.
"The German economy needs open internal borders and the free movement of goods," he said. “It is a question of economic sense not to vaccinate countries individually, but all of Europe. Only then will we get back on our feet economically."
He added, "No country, no party, no government can defeat this virus alone. It can only be done together."
Spahn assured lawmakers that Germany has enough vaccine for all of its citizens to be vaccinated this year.
The government has been criticized by opposition parties for its relatively slow vaccination program, with 750,000 shots given in a nation of 83 million. Spahn said he believes the entire country can be vaccinated by the middle of the year.
Senior government officials in Germany have warned that existing lockdown measures may not be enough to sufficiently reduce COVID-19 infections before Easter, especially considering the seemingly more contagious recent variants that have emerged in Britain and South Africa.