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HAMBURG, Germany – When a young woman showed up at Hamburg’s huge vaccination center in Covid last week, city officials checking to see if people were eligible were skeptical.
She was in her mid-twenties; Recordings are mainly made on people aged 60 and over. But she said she qualified for an exemption because she cared for her frail mother and presented a form to represent her case. Without her mother’s signature, the form was invalid and the officers turned her away. But she returned quickly, a little too quickly, with the signed document.
This time, she claimed to have a sister who had been vaccinated for the same reason, but a sample of the vaccination records found that was also wrong.
“You couldn’t get out of here fast enough,” said Martin Helfrich, a city spokesman who witnessed the scene.
The center’s officials have become adept at spotting people trying the most un-German activity: cutting in line. At state locations like the one in Hamburg, people over 60, people with pre-existing conditions and frontline workers are allowed to record. But Hamburg Center officials recently reported that in just one week, around 2,000 ineligible people searched for shots, either because they didn’t understand the rules – or because they were trying to cheat.
In a country that prides itself on keeping order, the news was shocking enough to make national headlines.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was also waiting for her turn. She was vaccinated in April and only people in her age group – she is 66 years old – were eligible. Ugur Sahin, the 55-year-old managing director of BioNTech, the German company that developed the Pfizer vaccine, has announced that he will also wait for his turn.
After a slow start, the German vaccination program is gaining momentum, and the federal legislature has given fully vaccinated people (from Wednesday just under 12 percent of the population) new freedoms, including the right to meet other vaccinated people, shop and travel without testing or quarantine . The move was a clear incentive for Germans, who are hoping for a more normal summer (in 2019, Germans took 52 million vacations abroad for more than four days; in 2020 it was only 28 million). But officials say it may have been a call on some to try to circumvent the priority rules.
“Not everyone has real criminal energy in this matter,” said Mr. Helfrich. “Some are just misinformed; others want to try, but give up pretty quickly; Very few actually do things like forged documents. “
While most states do not keep or publish the number of people declined to have their vaccinations, Hamburg decided to go public to discourage further attempts.
After vaccinations began in Germany in December, a new word, “Impfneid” or vaccine envy, was added to the lexicon. The Germans have seen how vaccination campaigns in the US have opened up to everyone over the age of 12 and how Great Britain, also a lineage-oriented country, has meticulously vaccinated millions of people.
Vaccine jealousy or no, the widespread disdain for people trying to get a shot ahead of their time has done more than damage to reputation. The 64-year-old mayor of Halle, a town of 240,000 in eastern Germany, was suspended after it was revealed he had received a leftover dose in January when only people over 79 or in the medical field had the right to a shot.
The country now boasts a first-shot rate of 38 percent – one of the top rates in the European Union. This week the government announced that priority lists will be a thing of the past in Germany from June 7th. But the program was generally plagued by hiccups, delays, and confusion.
Germany hesitated over the AstraZeneca vaccine for months because of the risk of rare blood clots, but earlier this month the country made this shot available to anyone over 18 as long as they recognized the risk.
As it turned out, this sparked a new race to get shots, this time completely within the rules.
Most government centers, like the one in Hamburg, have decided against AstraZeneca because people are concerned about the rare blood clots. But local doctors could offer the shot. Now doctors are complaining of increasingly aggressive behavior from those looking for a dose.
Shahak Shapira, 33, a comedian, documented his search for an AstraZeneca vaccination from a local doctor. He called the adventure AstraZenecaGo, because of its similarity to the popular augmented reality geolocation game Pokemon Go.
Xenia Balzereit, 29, a Berlin journalist, wrote about her lack of shame when she took the initiative to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca, whose dealings with the government led to widespread confusion.
“To be honest, my guilty conscience was worse when I stood in line in Berghain in pre-pandemic times,” she wrote, referring to Berlin’s most famous club.
General practitioners who started vaccinating in April also had much more leeway about who to vaccinate and why. On Monday, both Berlin and the western state of Baden-Württemberg officially dropped the priority lists for vaccines for doctor-administered shots.
In the Hamburg vaccine center – the largest in Germany – priority lists are still available and are being enforced.
Kai Pawlik, 43, coordinator at the vaccination center, says scammers are often easy to find out.
Mr Pawlik, who often has to deal with the less straightforward cases, says he understands that some people are so desperate to get the shot that they may misrepresent the rules or pretend to misunderstand them.
“And on the other hand, of course, there are people who try pretty boldly to take advantage of a system and get ahead,” he said. “And then my compassion is pretty limited.”
Björn Eggers, a 43-year-old police officer who, like many other front-line workers, is already authorized, got his second shot on Friday. He wasn’t impressed with the line jumper idea.
“If everyone tried,” he said, “we would be utter chaos.”