I D E A S , P O S I T I O N S , D E B A T E S W W W . D E U T S C H L A N D . D E M A R C H 2 0 2 1 E N G E N G L I S H L A N G U A G E FIGHTING CORONA TOGETHER How Germany is responding to the pandemic
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E D I T O R I A L We are only safe when ever yone is safe Dear Readers, The corona pandemic continues to have most countries firmly in its grip – and we do not yet know what developments the recent virus mutations will bring. Many of the things we thought normal are normal no more: meeting other people and going to school or the office. Everyone knows someone who has had the disease, and many mourn loved ones who lost their struggle against the virus. What gives us hope? The vaccines, of course, which were developed faster than ever before. The first vaccine to receive worldwide valid ation from the World Health Organization (WHO) was developed in a German labora tory – the achievement of committed husbandandwife researchers. People from 60 nations work in their company. We can definitely say that the “strength of diversity” con tributed to this success. In any event, “together” remains an important word during a pandemic that has caused so much isolation and loneliness. That is because we can only defeat the virus by working together across borders. On the following pages you can read how Germany is contributing to this effort. Yours sincerely, The Editors D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
C O N T E N T S F A C T S A N D F I G U R E S 06 43 A chronicle of the pandemic in Germany, support for the WHO and partner countries: an overview Map: who is doing research into COVID-19 vaccines in Germany and who is producing them? F I G H T I N G C O R O N A T O G E T H E R 08 14 16 20 22 24 32 34 38 40 45 46 48 International partnership: Germany shows solidarity with countries worldwide during the pandemic Profile: Marylyn Addo, infectiologist How Germany is mastering the pandemic: government and society are making enormous efforts to combat coronavirus Interview: Alena Buyx, professor of medical ethics, discusses fair access to vaccines and compulsory vaccination Profile: Christian Drosten, virologist Welcome to the new normal: the corona crisis has brought many changes – some of them positive Voices: how we are living with the pandemic The post-corona world: experts examine how life will change after the pandemic Profile: Lothar Wieler, RKI President The corona hunters: vaccine research in Germany The three greats: pioneers of infection research Profile: Özlem Türeci and Ug˘ur S˛ahin, vaccine pioneers Discovering Germany online: recommendations for a digital journey R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F R E G U L A R S 03 Editorial 54 Imprint 4 I 5
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F A C T S & F I G U R E S SUCCESSFUL FORMULA mRNA In 2020, the Biontech vaccine became the first mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine to receive approval anywhere in the world. The advantage of this new technology compared to conventional vaccines lies in the fact that part of the complex vaccine manufacturing process, the production of antigens, is transferred from the lab to the human cell. The new vaccine inserts a genetic blueprint for antigens into cells which they use as a plan for assembling the antigens that then initiate an immune response. R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 6 I 7 Facts & figures The corona pandemic appeared out of nowhere. Germany responded with commitment and expertise. A few examples COVID CHRONICLE The ﬁrst German case of coronavirus is conﬁrmed on 27 January 2020. A man from the Starnberg District in Bavaria was found to have the infection. Further developments: 18 March 2020 Federal Chancellor Merkel calls the ﬁght against corona “a historic task” 22 March 2020 First lockdown until 19 April 3 June 2020 The Federal Government agrees an economic recovery package worth roughly 130 billion euros 16 December 2020 Second lockdown until 7 March 2021 21 December 2020 The European Commission approves the Biontech/Pﬁzer vaccine 27 December 2020 Nationwide start of vaccination programme against coronavirus 4.25 BILLION EUROS FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES In response to the crisis, Germany reallocated roughly 1.15 billion euros from the 2020 development budget for COVID-19 emergency measures in partner countries and made available 1.55 billion euros of additional funding in a supplementary budget for 2020. Germany intends to make available an additional 1.55 billion euros in 2021 to support so-called corona response programmes.
WHO SUPPORT Germany has been a member of the World Health Organization ( WHO) since 1948 and is now actively helping to shape the strengthening and focusing process as a member of the Executive Board. Furthermore, Germany is one of the largest donors among the member states. In 2020, in addition to its assessed contribution of 26 million euros, it provided an additional 55 million euros as a voluntary contribution and 375 million euros of corona funding. NUMBER OF INTENSIVE CARE BEDS per 100,000 inhabitants Germany Austria United States France Spain Italy 9.7 8.6 Denmark 7.8 Ireland 5.0 N E T W O R K O F U N I V E R S I T Y H O S P I T A L S When the pandemic began the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF ) founded Netzwerk Universitätsmedizin, because university hospitals are ideally suited to gaining new research insights and then imple- menting these in patient care. All German university hospitals are members of the network, which is coordinated by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Its highest priority is the best possible treatment of COVID-19 patients. Annually, Germany’s 34 university hospitals treat almost two million inpatients and over ten million outpatients. 16.3 25.8 33.9 28.9 Source: OECD P A U L - E H R L I C H - I N S T I T U T The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines based near Frankfurt am Main, is responsible for the approval and official batch control of vaccines. It authorised the first clinical trial of the Biontech vaccine on 22 April 2020 and released the first three batches of the vaccine on 22 December 2020 – one day after it was approved by the European Commission. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
S T R E N G T H E N I N G C O O P E R A T I O N R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 8 I 9 I N T E R N A T I O N A L P A R T N E R S H I P Showing solidarit y Medical assistance, scientific exchange and economic stabilisation: Germany is showing solidarity with partner countries worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic. T E X T H E L E N S I B U M
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S T R E N G T H E N I N G C O O P E R A T I O N TThe department of Norte de Santander is a remote, largely rural area in northeastern Colombia, hun- dreds of kilometres from the capital city Bogotá. The coronavirus has raged especially strongly in this corner of the country – among other reasons, because large numbers of refugees from Venezuela are living in cramped conditions and without ac- cess to sanitation in this border region. At the same time the department lacked test capacities. That is why the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG) travelled here especially in May 2020. The experts brought 20,000 corona tests and advised laboratories on using the new procedures. “The pandemic will only be over,” said one of the doctors involved, “when it is defeated everywhere.” Germany is contributing to the global containment of the crisis in various ways. After all, the conclusion that the pandemic affects all people worldwide but not all in the same way may be con- stantly repeated, but it is no less true for that. To- gether with its European partners and as part of the G7 and G20, Germany is supporting other coun- tries in addressing the crisis. “If we stand together worldwide, we can control and overcome the virus and its consequences,” said Federal Chancellor An- gela Merkel during the G20 summit in November 2020. SEEG is only one of many examples of how Germany is contributing to the global struggle against coronavirus. The team of experts trains la- boratory staff and supports the development of di- agnostic capacities. The participating experts can draw on a great deal of experience here: SEEG was created in 2015 on the initiative of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Develop- ment (BMZ) against the background of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It is realised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusam- menarbeit (GIZ), the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and the Robert Koch Institute. In past years, the experts have combated plague in Madagascar, Lassa fever in Nigeria and Zika virus in Latin America. The Institute of Virology at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has also become in- volved since the outbreak of the coronavirus pan- demic. In the meantime, exchange between the Berlin experts and public health institutions has taken root in Colombia. This shows how ad-hoc solidarity at the beginning of the pandemic – when Germany sent medical technology and protective equipment to partner countries and German hospi- tals took in intensive-care patients from Italy and R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 1 0 I 1 1 France, for example – has long since been trans- formed into global, long-term support. It does not only involve assistance in the medical field, but also research cooperation, technology exchange – for example, for contact tracing – and economic stabili sation measures. The latter is now increasingly becoming a focus of attention in Latin America and the Carib- bean. “The pandemic has caused an economic and social shock there that is intensifying existing crises and threatening to take the region back 10 to 20 years,” says Marian Schuegraf, the responsible Re- gional Director at the Federal Foreign Office. The International Monetary Fund forecasts negative growth of more than -8% for the region. That is why Germany is engaging in close dialogue with governments there. “Together we want to ensure that the region emerges from the crisis stronger,” says Schuegraf, “for example, as a result of cooper- ation in the areas of climate protection, digitalisa- tion and social inclusion.” Support for countries in crisis The pandemic is also creating urgent challenges in Africa. Although the effects in the health sector have so far proved less catastrophic than feared, the economic and social impacts have been all the more disastrous. The Least Developed Countries Report published by the United Nations at the end of 2020 warns that the development successes of past decades are under considerable threat. “The world’s least developed countries are experiencing the worst recession in 30 years,” claims the report. The Agenda 2030 goals – for example, with regard to nutrition, education and gender equality – are at risk of being delayed far into the future. That is why Germany has increased its commitment to development cooperation. Imme- diately after the outbreak of the pandemic, the BMZ made available over 1.5 billion euros of addit ional emergency relief. A sum of 1.5 billion euros is also planned for 2021. This support is being concentrated on crisis countries in Africa and other regions, especially on countries where large numbers of refugees are living. In the medium and long term, it is espe- cially important to preserve jobs. That is why the BMZ launched its COVID-19 Response initiative as part of its developpp.de programme. The initia- tive supports entrepreneurial strategies that miti- gate the effects of the pandemic. Together with Fairtrade International and Forum Fairer Handel, the BMZ has also set up a fund of 13 million euros to help small farms. Countries that are especially dependent on tourism are also receiving support. In Tunisia, for example, where some 400,000 people were still working in the hospitality sector at the beginning of 2020, the GIZ is advising the appropriate ministry on introducing hygiene 1.5 billion euros of additional emergency aid was made avail able by the BMZ after the outbreak of the pandemic.
NGO staff taking temperatures in Nairobi, Kenya regulations for hotels and restaurants to strengthen the sector and secure jobs. In addition to bilateral projects, Germany is also actively supporting especially hard-hit coun- tries within the framework of Team Europe. In December 2020, for example, the EU announced a 20-million-euro programme to strengthen the health systems in the member states of the Asso- ciation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The EU pledged 92 million euros to the countries of the Sahel zone in order, among other things, to mitigate the socioeconomic effects of the pandem- ic. Furthermore, 25 million euros have been made available to contribute to overcoming the pandem- ic, accomplishing the transition to democracy and achieving medium-term development goals in Gambia. Solidarity also plays a crucial role inside Europe. The EU member states are working to- gether in many areas: for example, in the coordin- ation of containment measures, the mutual recog- nition of rapid antigen tests, vaccine procurement for all member states and, not least, in limiting damage to the economy and promoting economic recovery. The Eurogroup already allocated 540 bil- lion euros for this purpose in April 2020. Soon af- terwards, in July 2020, the EU member states agreed a package worth a total of 1,824 billion eu- ros. It includes the seven-year plan for the current EU budget until 2027 and the Next Generation “ We will not defeat the pandemic – and we will be forced to fight an increas ing number of variants – if we don’t ensure that vac cines can reach all people in need, including in fra gile environments.” E X C E R P T F R O M A S P E E C H B Y F E D E R A L F O R E I G N M I N I S T E R H E I K O M A A S T O T H E U N I T E D N A T I O N S S E C U R I T Y C O U N C I L O N 1 7 F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 1 D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
S T R E N G T H E N I N G C O O P E R A T I O N EU recovery fund, which alone has 750 billion eu- ros at its disposal. “This is a sign of trust in Europe and a historic moment,” said European Commis- sion President Ursula von der Leyen. Against “vaccine nationalism” Cooperation is also crucial when it comes to the most effective means of fighting the pandemic – vac- cination. On one hand, the EU countries are acting together by procuring vaccine for all member states. On the other, the European Commission, Germany and other EU members have joined the COVAX platform as part of the Team Europe approach. Un- der the leadership of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the Coalition for Epi- demic Preparedness Innov ations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), it is accelerat- ing the development of vaccines and supporting their fair distribution. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, an initiative that also improves worldwide access to medicines and di- agnostics. Germany is already contributing 600 mil- lion euros to the initiative and announced a further 1.5 billion euros in February. Germany is therefore the initiative’s largest single donor at the present time. “We need to overcome this pandemic in a spir- it of cooperation, not in the spirit of ‘vaccine nation- alism’,” said Federal President Frank-Walter Stein- meier at the opening of the World Health Summit in October 2020. Here Germany is acting on the principles of solidarity and multilateralism. However, it does so equally in the knowledge that the pandemic will keep returning to Europe again and again while it has not been overcome worldwide. Biontech, the German vaccine developer, also insists on a broad distribution of its vaccines. “From the very begin- ning, we have been saying that we see ourselves as a global company and will make our vaccine avail- able worldwide,” said Biontech co-founder Uğur Şahin in an interview with Der Spiegel, the Ger- man weekly news magazine. “If 500,000 cans are destined for a developing country, then they have to actually get there.” While the world continues in its efforts to contain the pandemic and its impacts, the multilat- eral perspective is also looking towards the future. The European Commission is planning to build a European Health Union that will provide common emergency plans, for example, to improve the re- sponsiveness of the community. And the G20 countries have asked the WHO to make recom- mendations in preparation for a new global pan- demic initiative. The declaration says this could close existing gaps in the international system. The world wants to learn from this crisis. R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 1 2 I 1 3 Team Europe Germany is also supporting especially hard-hit countries in cooperation with its European partners. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 2.1 billion euros are being made available by Germany for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. Germany is therefore the largest single donor.
A team of doctors in Lima, Peru Vaccine study participant in South Africa 337 million doses of vaccine are to be distributed to 145 countries by mid2021 with the aid of the COVAX platform. Production of COVID-19 vaccine Arrival of a consignment of Biontech/Pfizer vaccine Federal President Steinmeier visits a vaccination centre D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
I N I T I A T I N G C H A N G E “I’m encouraged by how medicine and research are moving together internationally” P R O F D R M A R Y LY N A D D O _ I N F E C T I O L O G I S T A N D P R O F E S S O R A T T H E M E D I C A L C E N T E R H A M B U R G - E P P E N D O R F Marylyn Addo knows what harm viral dis- eases can cause. The researcher regularly stands at patients’ bedsides as a doctor at the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). That was a condition she made when she took on the professorship for emerging infections at UKE in 2013: in addition to her work in the laboratory, she wanted to spend two days a week with patients. As she explains: “Many of my research questions result from work- ing with patients.” She was particularly pleased when a woman who had been flown in from France with a severe COVID-19 infection was eventually allowed to return home again in good health. France was also where she discovered her interest in infectiology. In the 1990s, while she was a medical student spending a semester abroad, she worked in an AIDS ward there and learned more about the social aspects of the disease. After study- ing in Bonn, Strasbourg and Lausanne and work- ing at institutes of virology and vaccine research in London and Boston, in Hamburg she has focused on vaccine development. “We’ve already been able to learn a great deal from earlier pandemics,” says Addo. To a certain extent, the Ebola crisis represented a breakthrough in dis- ease control, because for the first time researchers from all over the world worked together and de- veloped a vaccine in a very short space of time. It was Marylyn Addo who gave a volunteer the first injection and managed the clinical test phase. Soon afterwards the vaccine was approved and was able to protect large sections of the popula- tion in Congo. Genetic data on the coronavirus became available soon after the outbreak in Wuhan. Once again researchers from all over the world set about developing a vaccine – including the Dessau-based company IDT Biologika with the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) and UKE with Marylyn Addo as investigator. Although the vac- cine proved to be well tolerated, it was not suffi- ciently effective. There’s still some troubleshooting to do, says Addo. R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 1 4 I 1 5
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T A K I N G A C T I O N D E F E A T I N G C O V I D - 1 9 How Germany is mastering the pandemic Decisive action is required to defeat the pandemic and mitigate its effects. What sounds simple entails an enormous joint effort on the part of government, business and the entire population. T E X T A R N D F E S T E R L I N G R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 1 6 I 1 7
Keep your distance, wear a mask, test and vaccinate: combating the pandemic requires discipline and perseverance. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
T A K I N G A C T I O N CCough, fever, congestion and an impaired sense of taste or smell are some of the symptoms that people with COVID-19 present. An overburdened health system, economic downturn, insolvencies and un- employment are the symptoms of affected societies. And all of them are affected, all over the world, with no exception. No matter how great the obliga- tion all countries have to protect their citizens and their economies, there is little they can do alone to control the corona pandemic. That is why the Ger- man government is pursuing three goals in the fight against COVID-19. First of all, it wants to protect the health of its citizens and maintain the capacity of its health system. Second, it wishes to dampen the effects on people, employees and businesses. And third, it aims to overcome the pandemic with international cooperation. It has been a rather suc- cessful strategy until now. At least, that is in the view of the Organization for Economic Cooper- ation and Development (OECD), which has ac- knowledged the effectiveness of the measures taken against the pandemic and its effects by Germany’s federal and state authorities – also in comparison to the responses of other countries. It particularly em- phasised the strength of the health system and the provision of additional capacities as the pandemic took its course. When the pandemic broke out, Germany responded especially swiftly and increased its test capacities. Furthermore, the country had access to the highest number of intensive care beds in the European Union and was comparatively well staffed with doctors and nurses. This probably ex- plains why, according to figures published by Johns Hopkins University, Germany recorded approxi- mately 690 deaths per one million inhabitants at the end of January 2021, while the totals in other countries were more than twice as high. Protecting health and avoiding infection Worldwide, the task of protecting people’s health turned into a race against time during 2020 and at the beginning of 2021. On one hand, it has been important to keep the number of infections as low as possible to guarantee the best possible treatment of patients in a health system that has not become overburdened. On the other hand, enormous efforts have been made to develop and produce vaccines and to vaccinate the population to combat not the disease and its effects, but its spread and the pathogen R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 1 8 I 1 9 itself. That is why both in spring 2020 and winter 2020/2021 the Federal Government agreed lock- downs with the German states which the states then implemented to varying degrees. This is because the Federal Government does not have the right to make these decisions alone in Germany’s federal system. These measures have encroached deeply on people’s lives and put a considerable strain on the economy. Economic output has fallen by roughly 5% – after a ten-year period of continuous growth. Mitigating the impacts on individuals and the economy Because the two lockdowns aimed to reduce the number of personal contacts, they had an especially severe impact on the parts of the economy and pub- lic life that live from direct personal interaction: childcare centres, schools and universities, the non- food retail trade and many services as well as restaur- ants, cinemas, theatres, museums and zoos. Federal and state governments therefore made extraordinary efforts to cushion the economic consequences of the corona crisis and, specifically, the effects of the lock- downs. At the same time, they attempted, as Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, “to create resilient foundations for sustainable economic growth in the future”. A brief look at the various programmes to support businesses, employees and other institutions shows how comprehensive the efforts of the Federal Government have been. For example, assistance is being provided by legislation to secure employment (Beschäftigungssicherungsgesetz), which facilitates and finances short-time working. Direct payments have also been made under the auspices of an ex- traordinary economic assistance programme (Aus- serordentliche Wirtschaftshilfe). Programmes have been set up to safeguard apprenticeships (Ausbil- dungsplätze sichern) and to protect suppliers against payment defaults (Schutzschirm für Lieferketten). Over 900 inclusive businesses that employ people with disabilities are also receiving special grants. There is a programme to support sports clubs (Corona hilfen Profisport), and a rescue programme is providing assistance for cinemas, theatres and music festivals (Neustart Kultur). These Federal Government support measures are also being sup- plemented by state projects. A key concern of the Federal Government is providing support for families when schools and childcare centres are closed or only working to a very limited extent. In addition to direct payments to families, the rules on taking time off work to provide childcare and parents’ entitlement to in- come support for such periods have been adjusted to meet the new situation. In an international com- parison, the OECD has praised these economic measures as a successful policy for overcoming the 5% is how much GDP fell in Ger many dur ing corona year 2020 – after 10 years of eco nomic growth.
Distance education, shopping online and working at home – COVID-19 is changing many people’s everyday lives in Germany. crisis. They also form the basis for the Federal Government’s hopes of a significant economic recovery in 2021 with between 3 and 4% growth in gross domestic product. Combating the virus together All the measures aim to gain time until vaccines stop the spread of COVID-19 and enable public life to begin again. The greatest successes here include the fact that the first reliable corona test was developed in Germany as was the first vaccine approved for use in Europe: the product of the Mainz-based company Biontech and its US partner Pfizer (see page 40). The German Government regards researching the disease, developing medi- cines and combating the pandemic with vaccines not as a national, but as an international task. Fed- eral Chancellor Angela Merkel even mentioned this in her New Year’s address. The Biontech founders had previously told her that people from 60 nations worked in their company. “I can think of no better example,” said the Chancellor, “of how European and international cooperation, the strength of diversity, is what brings progress.” “A virus that affects us all cannot be defeated by one countr y alone. No countr y, not even Germany, can be safe from the virus if its friends and neighbours are not protected too.” A N G E L A M E R K E L , F E D E R A L C H A N C E L L O R D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
D E B A T E R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 2 0 I 2 1 E T H I C S “Looking ahead ” As a professor of medical ethics Alena Buyx has spent years examining questions like the ones that have now emerged during the pandemic. The Chair of the German Ethics Coun- cil answers questions on vaccination debates and solidarity. I N T E R V I E W H E L E N S I B U M solidarity and urgency. We applied these principles to the concrete issue and in relation to the available scientific findings. This process led to the general list of priorities. So STIKO could be said to have done the “fine-tuning”? Yes, because at that point in time, for example, it was not yet clear which vaccines would be the first to be approved or which people within the health- care system had the highest risk of infection. STIKO concretised the recommendations against the background of steadily increasing research re- sults. This evaluation is an ongoing process, and new knowledge is constantly being taken into ac- count. In the paper the Ethics Council also took a stance against compulsory vaccination. Nevertheless, de- bate continues about whether vaccination should be made the prerequisite, for example, for attend- ance of events or whether care staff should be obliged to have a vaccination. How do you see this from the ethical perspective? We rule out general compulsory vaccination in our paper for ethical reasons. With regard to com- pulsory vaccination in individual areas we say this could be conceivable under very specific circum- stances. First, more information has to become available about whether vaccinated people are really no longer able to infect others. Second, making vaccination compulsory would only be thinkable in specific contexts – for example, in places where it would be impossible to protect very vulnerable people by any other means. We will probably need a societal debate in the future on whether vaccinated people should be treated differently from others. the distribution of Alena Buyx is Chair of the German Ethics Council. In November 2020 this panel of experts wrote a position paper on the COVID-19 vaccine in Germany together with the Standing Committee on Vaccinations (STIKO) and the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The paper became the foundation for the STIKO recommendations on which the present prioritisa- tion for vaccinations is based. Professor Buyx, how did the Ethics Council pro- ceed on the subject of prioritisation? It was a complex process. We examined the relevant constitutional and ethical principles together – in other words, self-determination, damage preven- tion and welfare – as well as fairness and general legal equality, of course, and in addition to this
Another debate is currently focusing on Ger- many’s and the EU’s vaccine procurement policy and the progress of the vaccination campaign in Germany. How do you see this debate? I’m an impatient person. Things are going too slow for me too. It certainly makes sense to raise ques- tions about how the whole process has progressed and what could have been done better. At the mo- ment, however, I consider it more important to look ahead and to analyse where the bottlenecks are. The fact that there would initially not be enough vaccine was clear – now the distribution of available doses has to be optimised. There is cer- tainly potential for improvement on the technical side – for example, when it comes to the allocation of appointments. It is also crucial that we quickly move on to the next prioritised group when not all of those entitled to receive the vaccine have taken it. Things are running a little bumpily here, and we need a little understanding for that: the situ- ation is totally unprecedented and the learning curve is steep. You say you are impatient: have you already been vaccinated? No, but I am counting the days and weeks. The timing will simply depend on when it’s my turn. Although I’m a doctor and employed within the healthcare system, I don’t work directly with patients. A fair global distribution of the vaccine is also an important topic. Has the Ethics Council also examined the issue? It was not our immediate subject, but we discussed it because it is a question ethicists cannot overlook. You cannot and must not ignore the fact that people worldwide have been affected by this pandemic. That’s why I consider it important for Germany to show solidarity and contribute to international vac- cination initiatives like COVAX as well as working with the World Health Organisation. We can do even more here to ensure that the vaccine swiftly gets to poorer regions too. At the same time Ger- many and the EU should promptly find a mech- anism for immediately passing on over-ordered quantities of vaccine to developing countries. You and your colleagues are currently in great de- mand for opinions on medical ethics. Initially, the focus was on triage, the prioritisation of patients for treatment, but now it is on the distribution of vaccines. Has corona become a kind of touchstone for your discipline? Your observation is correct, but I wouldn’t speak of a touchstone. Perhaps, unlike people in other dis ciplines, we were already having thoughts about this subject. I actually wrote a book contri- bution ten years ago about solidarity during a pandemic. At the time I didn’t think I would ever P R O F D R A L E N A B U Y X Alena Buyx became Chair of the German Ethics Council in May 2020; she has been a member of the council since 2016. The physician also holds degrees in philosophy and sociology and has conducted research at Harvard University and University College London, among other places. She has been professor of the ethics of medicine and health tech- nologies at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) since 2018. deal with a real pandemic, but as medical ethicists we have long had to examine questions such as the distribution of scarce resources or balancing the rights of individuals against the needs of the gen- eral public. Nevertheless, our discipline is conti nu- ing to develop during the pandemic: thinking an issue through in theory is one thing, but it’s a completely different matter when a real pandemic is involved, one that is also negotiated in the pub- lic political arena. Theory can now prove that it also applies in practice… I have always found the accusation that theory doesn’t take practical problems into account unfair. But, of course, it is true: theory is pure. It is much more logical and therefore also simpler than reality. Nevertheless, reality must also take theory serious- ly; there is an interaction. And this interaction is what we are now experiencing in real time, and that is quite exceptional. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
I N I T I A T I N G C H A N G E “Lots and lots of interview requests turned up – and then the idea for the podcast” P R O F D R C H R I S T I A N D R O S T E N _ V I R O L O G I S T A N D I N S T I T U T E D I R E C T O R A T T H E C H A R I T É H O S P I T A L I N B E R L I N Virologist Christian Drosten is the media star of the corona pandemic in Germany. His podcast explains the latest coronavirus develop- ments so clearly that it even enables complete non-experts to understand finer points of vir- ology. The media used to only report on scientists after they received a prize, but in Drosten’s case you can practically look over his shoulder while he works. This has made him the most popular guide through the crisis. Drosten never wanted this strong media presence. However, he has always enjoyed sharing his knowledge. As early as 2003 he was one of the co-discoverers of the SARS-CoV-1 coronavirus. A few days after its identification, he succeeded in developing a diagnostic test. He made his findings available on the Internet before his article ap- peared in a scientific journal. At the end of 2019, researchers working under his leadership at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin began devel- oping a test for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and then made in mid-January 2020. it freely available worldwide Drosten was born and grew up on his par- ents’ farm in Emsland, in the northwestern corner of Germany, where he developed an interest in sci- ence at an early age. After leaving secondary school, he studied chemical technology, biology and medi- cine in Münster, Dortmund and Frankfurt am Main. In his doctoral thesis he examined ways of effectively testing for HIV and hepatitis in large quantities of donated blood. After working in the Department of Virology at the prestigious Bern- hard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg and the Institute of Virology at the Uni- versity Hospital Bonn (UKB), he accepted a job offer in Berlin and became Director of the Institute of Virology at the world-famous Charité. R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 2 2 I 2 3
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T A K I N G O N N E W I D E A S Welcome to the new normal The corona pandemic is changing the way people work, study and live in Germany. Some of these changes also have positive aspects – and will probably remain with us when the crisis is over. T E X T C H R I S T I N A I G L H A U T / S A R A H K A N N I N G / C L A R A K R U G R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 2 4 I 2 5
W O R K Working from home. Deserted offices, abandoned office kitchens and ghostly silence in conference rooms – since the beginning of 2021 this has been the picture in many Ger- man businesses. Millions of employees have been working at home since mid-March 2020. According to a survey carried out in December 2020 by Bitkom, the association of the German digital sector, a quarter of the workforce is working exclusively from home and a fifth stays at home for at least some days a week. For most people in Germany, however, re- mote working and working from home are by no means nor- mal: before the pandemic only 3% of the working population worked exclusively from home and another 15% did so occa- sionally. Although, according to the survey, many employees miss their well-equipped offices and personal contact with colleagues, people who work from home consider their work more productive and are more satisfied with their results. No more journeys to and from work and greater freedom are what many appreciate about the new situation. Experts therefore reckon that the trend towards working at home will increase.
M O B I L I T Y Changing direction. The transport sector is suffering in Germany too as a result of the crisis. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in the first six months of 2020 only half as many passengers undertook long-distance bus and train journeys as during the same period of the previous year. In 2020, Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt am Main regis- tered a fall in the number of air travellers to the level last re- corded in 1984. According to a survey by the dpa news agency, many employees now find it perfectly natural to participate in virtual meetings rather than business trips, and numerous companies also want to reduce the amount of business travel after the pandemic. Lots of people can also imagine travelling less often privately, as a PricewaterhouseCoopers study discovered: 44% of respondents wanted to travel on vacation less frequently. If there is a winner of the crisis, it is the bicycle: according to the Federal Transport Ministry, a quarter of the population cycled more in June and July 2020 than during the same period of the previous year. Many cities are responding to this trend by setting up “pop-up cycle paths” where – initially for a limited time – car lanes are transformed into cycle tracks.
H I G H E R E D U C A T I O N Taking an exam on the kitchen table. Seminar rooms are empty, lectures are broadcast online and exams are taken at home: the pandemic has transformed how students live and is forcing universities to rethink higher education. For example, MyScore is a project at RWTH Aachen Univer sity that enables an exchange of views in digital space. Equipped with virtual-reality headsets, participants meet for classes as avatars. Mobility and international exchange between individ- uals and institutions are also becoming digital – and this could become a model for the time after the crisis because it also enables students to gain international experience who would otherwise not have the funds to do so. International Virtual Academic Collaboration (IVAC) is a German Academic Ex- change Service (DAAD) programme, for example, that sup- ports digital partnerships between German and international higher education institutions. Despite these new ideas, the corona crisis is putting many students under financial strain: for example, because part-time jobs are no longer available. That is why Germany is supporting them with bridging allowances of up to 500 euros a month and study loans.
L E I S U R E Rediscovering the forest. Almost 80% of Germany’s population lives in towns. And although German cities can hardly be compared with the megacities of Asia or metropolises like Paris, London or Madrid with regard to residential space, light and parks, the situation there has become too cramped for many people because of the corona restrictions. A national curfew may not have been imposed in Germany to halt the pandemic, but playgrounds and parks were closed temporarily and now cinemas, bars, restaurants and many shops have had to shut their doors. Increasing numbers of people have been drawn to the countryside in pursuit of recreation. Those who had the option to do so moved in temporarily with relatives in rural areas, and allotment gardens, hiking paths and forests have also attained a new level of popularity. Forestry and agri- culture account for a good four fifths of land use in Germany – and yet at times local leaders in tourist regions raised the alarm because they were literally overrun by visitors. At the same time, the very opposite phenomenon presented itself in towns and cities: wild animals like foxes and deer ventured out of the countryside into the urban fringes.
C O N S U M P T I O N Breaking online sales records. At the very beginning of the pandemic there was great uncertainty about how high the risk of infection actually was in a supermarket. As a result, people who had previously rarely ordered anything online also began shopping on the web – even for food. This led to customers sometimes having to wait two weeks for an available delivery slot during the early phase of the pandemic. The online retail trade experienced a real boom in 2020. After all, clothing stores, booksellers and sports shops have had to close for long periods because of the pandemic. In contrast, shares in the German online fashion retailer Zalando reached a record high because the company attracted more new customers than ever before. The victims of this development have been the shops in the stationary retail sector: department stores, bou- tiques and specialist retailers. Bicycle shops, on the other hand, remained open and in May 2020 recorded the “best month the sector has ever had”, according to the Germany Bicycle In- dustry Association (ZIV). Cycle dealers now face a different challenge: some models have sold out – and will only be available again in summer 2021.
M E D I A Raising awareness about fake news. Democracy needs facts – and this has become especially clear during the corona crisis. Misinformation on social media, in online forums or on dubious news websites has spread extremely fast during the pandemic. That’s why journalists in Germany work continuously to counteract misinformation – for example, in Correctiv, a non-profit research centre. Its fact-checkers follow up tips provided by users and search through the Internet for potential fake news. They check the truth of the claims they find against valid sources and make their research results freely available. Working with the dpa news agency, Correctiv also supports Facebook with fact-checking. There has actually been great demand for reliable information during the pandemic: many Germans are now frequently falling back on traditional, credible media, says COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring (COSMO) at the University of Erfurt. Above all, public service broad casters and also the websites of daily newspapers have been registering record-breaking audience and access figures since the pandemic broke out.
H O U S I N G Learning to love life in the country. For a long time, many people in Germany considered “moving to the country” unfashionable. But the corona pandemic has now changed that view. The restrictions imposed last spring and this winter made it very clear, especially to families, that a three-room apartment without a balcony does not offer enough private space, for ex- ample, for two parents engaged in remote working and school- age children who now have to study at home. Lower property prices, the chance of having a garden and the prospect of being able to carry on working from home, at least partially, have increased interest in a move to the countryside. According to a survey by Bitkom, the association of the digital sector in Germany, one in five people could imagine moving house if the period of remote working continues. In June 2020, Immobilienscout24, the online real-estate agent, registered twice as many enquiries for owner-occupied apartments in areas just outside cities. This is good news for many villages that have previously suffered from depopulation – rural areas could become more attractive again as a result of the pandemic.
P R O V I D I N G I N S I G H T S How we live with the pandemic E M A N U E L E S A V A G N O N E The 23-year-old Italian is studying composi- tion at Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts. He first came to Germany in 2016 as an Erasmus student and returned in 2018 as a DAAD scholarship holder to study for a Master’s degree. “My life is slow during the pandemic. I’m taking all my classes online. It’s especially depressing for students like me who live alone and abroad. I was used to a very high level of exchange with the other students and a high frequency of travel. But the restrictions are necessary. I used to work as a choir conductor which is impossible in the pandem- ic. If it hadn’t been for my DAAD scholarship, it would have been much harder. I hope society will learn how to live with pandemics because I believe there will be other pandemics in my lifetime.” R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 3 2 I 3 3 L A U R E L K R A T O C H V I L A Laurel Kratochvila has been running Fine Bagels, a bagel store in Berlin, since 2013. She and her husband, Roman, who runs a book- shop, have developed their very own strategy for making it through the crisis – with an online book and bagel delivery service. “My cafe and bookstore is still open for take- away customers. We had to figure out how to run a takeaway and delivery business to make up the lost income on in-house sales. But fortunately that has all worked well. This situation gave us the kick we needed to create an e-shop for our bookstore. We’d been talking about it for years and this is what finally got us to create one. We have a really great customer base who come and get their food for takeaway. Meanwhile we receive more orders than we can handle.”
D R M I C H A E L H O R A C E K The doctor is responsible for the Internal Medical Intensive Care Ward at the Alfried Krupp Hospital in Essen as departmental intensive care physician and specialist for internal medicine and cardiology. “All new patients are classified as potential COVID cases and we handle them with appropriate protect- ive equipment. We wear our masks and don’t take them off. The strict visitor rules are very burden- some. You often can’t allow relatives of COVID patients into the room, even when the patient is very poorly. The postponement of plannable examinations or operations is a great strain on us and, above all, on our patients. We have already learned a great deal from the pandemic. Basically, I find it very positive that German society is taking care, above all, to protect the most vulnerable people. I have experienced far fewer restrictions at work than many other people. I hope that as many people as possible get themselves vaccin- ated so that we can overcome the pandemic.” S I M O N B Ö H N L E I N How can business become not only climate-neutral, but also socially responsible? This was the question Berlin business founder Simon Böhnlein asked him- self. He opened GoodBuy, the socially responsible (online) store, with Paul Berg in November 2019. “We only distribute products that create concrete solutions to global and local problems. We sell our products online, but you can also buy them in the shop in Berlin. At the start of the first lockdown we sold almost nothing, which was a shock. But we recovered fast and eventually even exceeded the 2020 targets we had set ourselves before the pandemic. The crisis has shown that rapid change is pos- sible. I hope that the courage we have seen during the crisis will also continue to exist afterwards when the focus will be on the green transformation.” S H E R M I N L A N G H O F F Shermin Langhoff has been Artistic Director of the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin since 2013. The theatre has made a name for itself above all with its socially critical productions. Langhoff has already received numerous honours for her commitment to the arts, including the Federal Order of Merit in 2017. “Without being naïve about it, we also saw the crisis as an opportunity to rethink our existing ideas and our own relevance to society. That’s why we attempted to find a new form of discourse that we need in times of crisis. Every Wednesday and Friday we stream a video of a new production with English subtitles. We also have a glass cube at the Museum Island in Berlin, our Gorki Kiosk, where we can give performances for passers-by. In addition to this, we regularly organise exhibitions, also online. This gives me grounds for hope that there will also be life after the pandemic. The theatre and, of course, humankind too have survived many pandemics.” YOU CAN READ LONGER VERSIONS OF THESE FIVE INTERVIEWS AT www.deutschland.de/en/fighting-corona-together D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
The post-COVID world F O R W A R D T H I N K E R S R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 3 4 I 3 5
Which elements of living with the pandemic will remain with us and leave their mark on society, education, business and politics? Bernd Kortmann and Günther G. Schulze of the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) have published an anthology of expert opinions. They sum up the experts’ views here. AAlthough the world is still in the midst of a corona pandemic that has nearly all countries firmly in its grip, we now have effective vaccines that could put an end to this horror – and we can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. But what will the post-COVID world be like? Will the pandemic mark a turning point or will it only make a small dent in long-term lines of development? What will the crisis leave behind? First of all, it will leave a feeling of individ- ual and systemic vulnerability. For Western Europe the corona pandemic has been the greatest crisis since the Second World War in medical, economic and social terms. This feeling will endure beyond the pandemic. The relative security in which many people have lived since the end of the Cold War is now irretrievably gone. This will not only perman- ently change attitudes to life, but also increase pro- vision for the future by individuals and society. Investments in the health system will rise, while debates about cutting costs there will fall silent. Government agencies will take more preventive action to ensure that shortages of protective equipment and in health authorities do not occur again during the next pandemic. A new sense of community – and seeing others as potential threats The corona crisis will – at least, that is the hope – lead to a new sense of community. During the crisis a strange tension has developed in how people re- late to one another. Everyone has been affected by the virus and its social and economic impacts, al- though to a varying extent. Initially that generated solidarity and a new feeling of community and shared responsibility. Groups of people who had previously not been the focus of attention were fi- nally appreciated because of their live-saving and systematically important functions – for example, nursing staff or employees in the food retail trade and parcel delivery services. On the other hand, fellow human beings are also potential carriers of the virus – their behav- iour determines our own risk exposure and makes them a potential threat. This has led to individual- isation and distancing – greeting and leave-taking rituals such as shaking hands, hugs or a kiss on the cheek are no longer seemly – as well as growing isolation and loneliness, especially among mentally unstable individuals. In fact, the danger of a “third wave” in the sense of a strong increase in mental illness, especially of anxiety disorders and severe de- pression, across all classes and age groups is ex- tremely real and has already arrived in clinics and doctors’ practices. Obviously, in these times of increasing “corona blues” it is still not yet clear how much of this new sense of community and these “corona feelings” will remain with us permanently and which elements will eventually be rolled back again. However, many experts from different fields see the pooling of all our resources to overcome the corona crisis as an opportunity to overcome even greater crises – above all, the ecological crisis triggered by climate change. There is also broad agreement that there will be no return to the supposedly good old normality. Instead the corona crisis should be used as an opportunity for fundamental reflection and rethinking – by all means bound up with a moral reawakening – and, among other things, lead to a sustainable environmental, climate, economic and social policy – with the overall goal of a stronger focus on the common good. Catalyst for digital communication Although concrete prognoses about the post- COVID world remain difficult, many trends are now already clearly discernible. Digitalisation is one of them. The trend towards digital communi- cation will increase, and the crisis is acting as a cata- lyst here. Corona has compelled many companies, universities and authorities that were previously reluctant to adopt new communication technolo- D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
F O R W A R D T H I N K E R S R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 3 6 I 3 7 gies to try out new digital formats. These changes will remain in place where people’s experiences are posi tive. There will be an increase in working from home, video conferencing and online teaching, es- pecially because they lead to cost savings and ap- propriate offerings increase employers’ attractive- ness. This will impact the property market – on one hand, because it will no longer be so important for employees to live near their places of work in urban areas and, on the other, because there will be less demand for office space. The trend towards working from home will also lead to a further in- crease in women’s employment, since new flexible work opportunities will make it possible to better reconcile having a family and a career. Although women have been among those most affected by the restrictions on public life – because a dispro- portionately large share of the responsibility for childcare has fallen upon their shoulders, because job losses have affected women more often than men and because domestic violence has increased – they have been able to benefit most from the rapid increase in digitalisation. Economy and labour market in transition Major adjustments to the labour market can be expected – not only because specific industries, such as the hotel and transport sectors, will need long-term restructuring, but also because the transitions from school to vocational training or from university to employment and moving from one job to another have become much more diffi- cult. Fewer apprenticeships have been offered dur- ing the crisis, and firms are not hiring as many employees. This carries the risk of creating a “co- rona generation” that will continue to feel the im- pact of gaps in their educational and employment biographies long after the crisis. A similar situ- ation could also threaten school students, espe- cially the weaker ones or those with migrant back- grounds, if schools are closed again for a longer period, not least because the pandemic has re- vealed significant weaknesses in the German school system with regard to digitalisation and teachers’ media (teaching) competence. COVID has triggered an enormous pro- ductivity shock affecting both supply and de- mand. Production costs have increased – among other things, because of the need to implement hygiene strategies. At the same time, demand is falling because consumers exercise restraint dur- ing crises and real incomes have fallen. This has resulted in insolvencies, job losses and restructur- ing – normal side effects of an economic crisis. However, this crisis has been deeper than the last, and it is still unclear whether the recovery will be swift. However justifiable they might be in prin- ciple, the wide range of government aid measures could also delay overdue structural adjustments
D I V E R S E P O I N T S O F V I E W The authors of the article, Professor Bernd Kortmann and Professor Günther G. Schulze, also edited “Jenseits von Corona. Unsere Welt nach der Pandemie – Perspektiven aus der Wissenschaft”, which was published by transcript in September 2020. In their book on the post-COVID world they brought together contributions by 32 highly renowned researchers in different disciplines, including Markus Gabriel (philosopher), Andreas Vosskuhle (former President of the Federal Constitutional Court), Lars Feld (economist and Chair of the German Council of Economic Experts), Bärbel Friedrich (microbiologist and former Vice President of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina), Marina Münkler (literary scholar) and Herfried Münkler (political scientist). Bernd Kortmann is professor of English language and linguistics and Executive Director of the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS); Günther G. Schulze is professor of economics and Director Social Sciences at FRIAS. w w w.f r i a s . u n i -f r e i b u r g .d e Corona has brought about a setback for populist govern- ments in demo- cratic countries, but not a setback for many govern- ments in authori- tarian countries. and enable uncompetitive enterprises to keep doing business. On the other hand, because it has not been possible to implement aid measures fast enough or target them accurately enough other businesses that would have been competitive in post-COVID times have not been able to make it through the crisis and structures will have to be laboriously built up again. In any event, these huge additional public expenditures will become a significant financial burden in the future. If markets were to lose trust in large European countries, for example, this could lead to a sovereign debt crisis with very far-reaching consequences. The EU Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021 to 2027, which totals nearly 1.1 trillion euros, and the corona recovery fund, which totals 750 billion euros, including 390 bil- lion euros in grants, may ease the situation in the short-term. At the same time, however, it carries the risk of a permanent communitisation of debts with the known severe negative incentive effects for sound prevention and finance policy. Pandemic as a geopolitical factor Corona is also having an impact on the world order. First, the actions of the US Administration during the pandemic probably contributed to the Trump government losing the election, which has given grounds for optimism that the United States will again play a constructive international leader- ship role. Second, United States action has led to increased self-confidence on the part of the Chin- ese leadership. It is exploiting the attention gap created by the corona crisis and taking an increas- ingly confrontational stance in many places. Such developments towards a stronger dualism between China and the United States were already emerg- ing – here, as in many other areas, the corona pan- demic has had an accelerating effect. Finally, the “vaccination nationalism” that has emerged in the race to develop and distribute vaccines and the way vaccines have been instrumentalised will have last- ing effects. Overall, corona has brought about a set- back for populist governments in democratic coun- tries, but not a setback for many governments in authoritarian countries. The longer the crisis has continued, the greater the boost this has given co- rona deniers and adherents of conspiracy theories. They may be relatively small in number, but they have a loud voice and a strong presence in the media. Although little of this is really specifically related to the coronavirus, the same mechanisms largely apply here as have applied to conspiracy the- ories in the past. Victory of science over crisis The pandemic has undeniably increased acceptance of the importance of science and research. At the same time, however, it has become apparent that there is still room for significant improvements in the communication of science to society, politics and the media. The pandemic has also encouraged the idea that governments that act on the basis of scientific evidence, provide transparent informa- tion and explain their actions well are better able to take their countries through the crisis than govern- ments that are driven by ideology. Ultimately – and what better evidence could there be for this than the swift approval of corona vaccines – this crisis will be overcome by science. This is also a central insight that will remain with us after the time with corona. It is also an insight that can help us address the major problems that still lay ahead of us. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
I N I T I A T I N G C H A N G E “The course of the pandemic depends solely on how we behave” P R O F D R L O T H A R W I E L E R _ M I C R O B I O L O G I S T A N D P R E S I D E N T O F T H E R O B E R T K O C H I N S T I T U T E I N B E R L I N R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F In Germany, Lothar Wieler enjoys almost as much popularity as a newsreader. His current ac- tivity also has some similarity with that occupation. Speaking with a calm and matter-of-fact voice in much heeded press conferences, he regularly an- nounces the latest news on the spread of the coro- navirus in Germany. But Lothar Wieler is a researcher and since 2015 President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Federal Government’s central research institu- tion in the field of disease control and prevention based in Berlin. The core duties of the RKI include the identification, prevention and elimination of infectious diseases. Accordingly, the institute car- ries out research, informs the public and advises the Federal Government. When RKI President Wieler addresses the public, he can draw on concentrated knowl- edge and a great deal of experience. The RKI is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. It is named after the first director of the institute: Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis pathogen in 1882, for which he received the No- bel Prize in Medicine in 1905. Today, the institute employs a total of 1,100 people, including 450 researchers. Lothar Wieler first came into contact with his present work as a boy. He used to drive from farm to farm in the Rhineland with his father, who was a vet, and later studied veterinary medicine in Munich before focusing on microbiology in Gies- sen. For 30 years, he has conducted research on and taught students about pathogens that are transmit- ted between animals and humans. It also appears that an animal-to-human transmission was respon- sible for the outbreak of the corona epidemic. 3 8 I 3 9
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V A C C I N E D E V E L O P M E N T The corona hunters from Germany Dozens of German laboratories are putting all their efforts into research on vaccines against coronavirus. A special programme of the Federal Government is supporting them in this. Biontech in Mainz has been most successful so far. The company discovered a highly effective vaccine against COVID-19 incredibly fast. T E X T S E B A S T I A N B A L Z T E R R E S E A R C H R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 4 0 I 4 1
TThe doctors Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci never intended to found a vaccine production company. The two Mainz University researchers, who are partners in both their private and professional lives, were aiming for something rather different when they presented their idea for a new pharmaceutical enterprise to investors in autumn 2007. Şahin und Türeci, whose parents came to Germany from Tur- key, aimed to do nothing less than revolutionise the treatment of cancer with their Biontech company. The investors were certainly taken with the idea. At the time, a new kind of cancer therapy was a far more ambitious and a far more commercial goal than working on a vaccine against a lung disease that was spread by a virus would ever have been. That suddenly changed when COVID-19 was diagnosed for the first time and Chinese re- searchers published the genome of the coronavirus in January 2020. Şahin and Türeci did not hesitate very long at the Biontech headquarters in Mainz. They decided to undertake a new research pro- gramme and gave it the name Lightspeed. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it was an appropri- ate description, because just a few weeks later what eventually proved to be the right active ingredient was found in the Biontech laboratory. Clinical trials began on tens of thousands of volunteers be- fore the end of spring, and the overwhelmingly positive results already became available in Novem- ber. Finally, in December a large number of coun- tries began launching the vaccination campaigns on which many are now pinning their hopes of overcoming the pandemic. 26 projects in Germany alone It normally takes several years to develop a new vac- cine. In this case, it was accomplished in a record time of less than twelve months. In all, the World Health Organization (WHO) has counted over 240 projects aimed at developing a corona vaccine, including 26 in Germany. None of them achieved their goal faster than Biontech. Although the BNT 162b2 vaccine has been developed, manufactured and distributed jointly with Pfizer, the large US pharma company with a global organisation, the intellectual property rights D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
R E S E A R C H R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F The Research Minis- try has made avail- able 750 million euros for vaccine development. 4 2 I 4 3 to the vaccine are held by Biontech, a much smaller startup founded by Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci from Mainz that had previously not launched a sin- gle medicine on the market. Two aspects make Bion- tech’s success especially remarkable. First, it meant that a company which was completely new to this field overtook a raft of experienced international vac- cine manufacturers, such as Sanofi from France and Glaxo-Smith-Kline (GSK) and Astra-Zeneca from the United Kingdom. Second, a new kind of tech- nology, one that uses messenger RNA (mRNA), proved superior to other, time-tested approaches. Biontech uses a new technology: mRNA The Biontech corona vaccine is the world’s first approved medicine that uses this technology. The use of ribonucleic acid here, a kind of sister to the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that carries genetic information, supplies the body with a genetic blue- print that enable it to protect itself against viruses or other diseases. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci have been working on this idea for some years in an effort to develop new cancer drugs. However, the two researcher-entrepre- neurs from Mainz are not the only scientists in Germany working on this technology. Located in Tübingen, only 250 kilometres southwest of Mainz, is the headquarters of Curevac, the biotech company that was founded in 2000 by the mole cu- lar biologist Ingmar Hoerr. Hoerr is an mRNA pioneer of the first hour who focused his firm on the possibilities of this technology from the very outset. He also set himself the goal of using it to develop a corona vaccine very early on. The German Federal Government even took the very unusual step of investing 300 million euros in the company to keep it in the country on a perman- ent basis. However, its next steps on the path to pos- sible approval and market launch did not succeed quite as fast as they did for Biontech. Meanwhile, however, Curevac has concluded an alliance with Bayer, the large German pharma company, to ad- vance the development of its CVnCoV vaccine candidate. Curevac is also cooperating with GSK from the United Kingdom. The results of the clinic al study should become available in mid- 2021, and if everything goes well, the Curevac corona vaccine will also be approved then. Research successes increase stock-market value As a result of their efforts in the fight against the corona pandemic, Curevac and Biontech have become the best known biotech companies in Ger- many. They share a number of other interesting common features. Both firms are majority owned by
G E R M A N S I T E S I N V O L V E D I N T H E D E V E L O P M E N T A N D P R O D U C T I O N O F C O V I D - 1 9 V A C C I N E S Vibalogics (for Janssen) UKE Hamburg (for DZIF ) Richter-Helm (for Inovio) Miltenyi Biotec Contivir (MPI) IDT Biologika (for DZIF ) Belyntic Bayer (for Curevac) Dermapharm Holding (for Biontech/Pfizer) Biontech (for Biontech/Pfizer) University of Marburg (for DZIF ) Sanofi (for Sanofi/GSK) Merck (for University of Oxford) Recipharm Daiichi Sankyo Europe (for Daiichi Sankyo, Japan) University of Munich (for DZIF, Daiichi Sankyo) D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1 M A I N S I T E A N C I L L I A R Y S I T E S Baxter Bio-Pharma Solutions (for Biontech/ Pfizer) German Center for Infection Research (DZIF ) – 2 projects Siegfried (for Biontech/Pfizer) ARTES Biotechnology Cevec Pharmaceuticals University Hospital Bonn University of Giessen (for OpenCorona consortium) Biontech/Pfizer – 2 projects Biontech/Pfizer University of Tübingen (for PREVENT-nCoV consortium) Curevac Prime Vector Technologies University Hospital Tübingen R-Pharm Germany Rentschler Biopharma (for Biontech/Pfizer) Leukocare Baseclick Source: vfa (17 January 2021)
R E S E A R C H Exhaustive trials determine the effective- ness of the vaccines and rule out the possibility of side-effects. Transporting and storing the Biontech vaccine is only possible at extremely cold temperatures. Hundreds of millions of doses will need to be produced. German billionaires: SAP founder Dietmar Hopp has been a major shareholder in Curevac for many years, while the pharma entrepreneurs Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann were founding investors in Bi- ontech. Both companies have been working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for some time. Curevac is developing vaccines against malaria and the Rotavirus with the foundation, while Biontech wants to make progress on vaccines against tubercu- losis and HIV. The two companies were recently listed on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in New York, where in mid-January Curevac was worth roughly 18 billion dollars and Biontech nearly 25 billion dollars. Ministry funds research Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Re- search eventually decided to give both Curevac and Biontech massive funding to accelerate the develop- ment and production of corona vaccines. In all, up to 750 million euros have been allocated for 2020 and 2021 as part of a special programme. With the same programme, the ministry is also supporting a third company that has made the headlines much less often: IDT Biologika from Dessau in Saxony- Anhalt. Founded in 1921 and owned by a family of entrepreneurs, the firm normally manufactures medi cines to order for other pharmaceutical busi- nesses, but is now attempting to develop its own vaccine. It is using a conventional process based on a strain of smallpox virus that has been used in vaccines for decades. The approval procedure for this vaccine could begin at the end of 2021 at the earliest, but probably only in 2022. That is not the speed of light. But, on the other hand, the vaccine from Dessau could one day be much less expensive to produce and easier to handle than BNT 162b2 from Mainz and CVnCoV from Tübingen. R E H T E G O T A N O R O C G N I T H G I F 4 4 I 4 5
P I O N E E R S O F G E R M A N V A C C I N E R E S E A R C H The three greats The basic principles for combating infectious diseases were already discovered over one hundred years ago in Germany. Three researchers stand out. T E X T M A R T I N O R T H P A U L E H R L I C H Immunologist, 1854–1915 R O B E R T K O C H Microbiologist, 1843–1910 E M I L V O N B E H R I N G Serologist, 1854–1917 Paul Ehrlich studied medicine, but did not see his future at his patients’ bedside. The autodidact much preferred devoting his time to chemistry. He was Robert Koch’s assistant, worked with Emil Behring and was responsible for the be- ginnings of immunological research. In 1908, he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in immunology. He explained the basic principle of im- munity with his side-chain theory. He also used it to develop the first effective chemotherapeutic agent and is therefore considered the founder of chemother- apy. Ehrlich succeeded in curing syphilis with the drug Salvarsan. That brought him great international recognition. In 1876, Robert Koch succeeded in iden- tifying the bacterium that causes anthrax in a poorly equipped home laboratory. This made him the first person to prove that a microorganism can cause an infec- tious disease. The previously unknown country doctor was called to Berlin, where he could work under better condi- tions and discovered the tuberculosis pathogen in 1882. This made him world-famous. In 1905, he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discov- ery. He also identified the cholera patho- gen during a research trip to India in 1883, but an Italian scientist had already described it before him. However, the two men did not know each other. Early on, Emil Behring, a military doctor, became convinced that infectious agents should not be combated with exogenous chemicals, but with antitoxins formed by the body itself as a defence against bac- teria. He was only first able to pursue this idea in Robert Koch’s laboratories in Ber- lin, where he developed the first antiserum against two feared infectious diseases, diphtheria and tetanus. This brought him the very first Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1901. He used the prize money to set up his own business and founded the Behringwerke in Marburg to manufacture serum. Biontech took over the site in 2020 and is now producing its new vaccine there. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
I N I T I A T I N G C H A N G E 4 6 I 4 7 “Speed is enormously important during a pandemic” D R Ö Z L E M T Ü R E C I & P R O F D R U Ğ U R Ş A H I N _ P H Y S I C I A N S A N D F O U N D E R S O F B I O N T E C H
Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin are the faces of Germany’s vaccine success. The founders of the Mainz-based company Biontech developed a high- ly effective, mass-produced and safe vaccine against coronavirus at “Light speed”, as they named their project in mid-January 2020. In the past, develop- ing a vaccine took over ten years – if it was success- ful at all. It took Biontech less than a year. How did Türeci and Şahin achieve that? It is a story of passion, conviction, courage and vi- sion. The two doctors first met at Saarland Univer- sity Medical Center and married in 2002. One year earlier they had already founded a biotech company, which they later sold at a profit. In 2008, they set up Biontech in the firm conviction that cancer can be prevented or even cured with messenger ribo- nucleic acid (mRNA). Because they secured the backing of two strong German financial investors early on, they were able to risk everything at the beginning of 2020. Several hundreds of employees set out to develop a vaccine against coronavirus using the new mRNA technology. At the same time, the founders relied on numerous partnerships to resolve the logistical challenge of vaccine produc- tion. US pharma giant Pfizer is the biggest name among them. That was how they managed to com- plete the test phases early and eventually begin large-scale production of the first vaccine to receive EU approval. In the meantime, Biontech is trading on the US NASDAQ Stock Exchange at high prices. However, the husband-and-wife research team with Turkish roots have always only regarded economic success as a side-effect. They consider it more im- portant to get the results of their research work to patients across a broad front. And that is where in- vestors see great potential. It is said that the wide range of applications for mRNA technology could make “Biontech the Amazon of the biotechnology sector”. D E U T S C H L A N D E D I T I O N 2 0 2 1
E X P E R I E N C I N G G E R M A N Y O N L I N E A N O R O C E H T E G O T R Discovering Germany on the web T H G I F G N I Would you like to experience iconic landscapes and natural settings, party through the night with cult Berlin DJs, discover young German poets or wander around one of Europe’s most renowned art museums undisturbed? Germany comes to your living room with these virtual offerings. T E X T K I M B E R G A N D C H R I S T I N A I G L H A U T 4 8 I 4 9
G E R M A N Y F O R nature lovers Can there be any better way to relax than taking a long walk in the forest? Germans have always been known to enjoy a good hike, but since the corona crisis began they have been attracted to their nearest forests even more often. And Germany cer tainly has plenty of forests: 33% of the country is covered in woodland. Taking a digital tour of the Bavarian Forest or a vir tual 360degree drone flight now allows nature lovers to discover what makes German forests special from the comfort of their homes. Visit the German forest with a 360degree drone operated by the Wildnis Deutschland initiative www.youtube.com/ watch?v=vBaOgy0wNbA Stroll through the Bavarian Forest with German biologists www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Rdk4LiBWKZQ
G E R M A N Y F O R poets Sometimes poetry is thera peutic. It can connect people, capture the world in words and provide solace in times of crisis. What better way could there be at this time to discover Germany, the land of poets and philosophers, online? @poetryforlocals by the actor Daniel Brühl. This poetry reading initiative encourages people to post or read aloud their favourite poem under the @poetryforlocals Instagram account and the #poetryforlocals hashtag. At the same time, they can ask people to support a favourite shop, café or restaurant in their local area – or simply send their greetings. Discover poems with the Poetry Ambulance of the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg www.thalia-theater.de/ startseite/thaliadigital- poesie-ambulanz
G E R M A N Y F O R music fans Whether classical, pop or dance hall, most things go better with music – also and above all in times of crisis. But many artists are moving their performances onto the web because concerts cannot take place. Live video streams from Berlin clubs, vener able opera houses and modern concert halls and festivals and indie talents on Instagram allow you to immerse yourself in the German music scene from the comfort of your sofa while simultaneously supporting artists and performers. Stream arts and music videos from the Dringeblieben website www.dringeblieben.de Experience international operas online on the European Operavision platform www.operavision.eu/de/ library/digitale-oper
G E R M A N Y F O R globetrotters Vacations have been cancelled and journeys postponed: the corona crisis has upset many globetrotters’ travel plans. But they don’t have to completely forego their voyages of discovery. Faraway places are sometimes closer than we think – often just a few mouse clicks away. How about a 360degree tour around Germany, for example? Or a drone flight over Cologne Cathedral? Thanks to virtual offerings, wouldbe travellers can now discover Germany very easily from their own homes. Experience 360degree panoramas from Germany www.deutschland- panorama.de Discover Germany with the DWDaily Drone www.twitter.com/dw_kultur
G E R M A N Y F O R culture lovers If you love art you can now undertake private guided tours of Germany’s most famous museums – at least online. You can even feel very close to the works of art during an undisturbed stroll around the halls of historic galleries like the Bode Museum in Berlin or the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Podcasts and elearning services are also waiting for digital visitors. Take a virtual tour of the BodeMuseum www.smb.museum/ museen-einrichtungen/ bode-museum/home/ Discover the many digital offerings at the Städel Museum www.staedelmuseum.de/de/ digitale-angebote Listen to the Finding Van Gogh podcast www.staedelmuseum.de/de/ podcast-finding-van-gogh
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Ever y thing you want to know about Germany ) 4 ( s e g a m I y t t e G F A C T S , F I G U R E S , I N S I G H T S Germany is a land of diversity, living democracy and innovative business. And Facts about Germany is the website with the most important facts and information about the country. Find out more about German politics and society as well as subjects like employment, climate protection and the education system. Facts about Germany offers topical and reliable information in eight languages. www.tatsachen-ueber-deutschland.de/en