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Corona vaccination bus: What is the next step for the vaccination campaign in Bonn?

Corona vaccination bus : What is the next step for the vaccination campaign in Bonn?

More than 5000 people have already been immunised against the coronavirus in the Bonn vaccination bus. Mostly on the spur-of-the-moment, for very different reasons. Although the vaccination campaign is changing at the end of September, the city wants to continue running it.

Frank Wasserheß sits on the white folding chair in his dirty trousers and a dust-smeared cap. He would never normally go to the doctor dressed like this. “I've just come from the construction site at Bonn Cathedral,” he explains. He can no longer work on the gutters due to the rain. “And then I thought to myself: Why don't you go and quickly get vaccinated?” He is in good company at the Münsterplatz. As it gets closer to finishing time, more workmen come from the construction sites nearby. The colourful vaccination bus with its two white awnings and a large poster is attracting attention.

Since mid-August, the converted public bus has been touring through Bonn, and recently a second one has been added. Stops are made at up to five stations every day, including schools, vocational colleges, leisure centres and public areas in the local neighbourhoods. While mainly students are being immunised at the educational institutions, anyone can come along to the other places. No appointment is needed and no registration. Just like on this Wednesday afternoon at the Münsterplatz.

Following the closure of the vaccination centre, Bonn city authorities are trying to increase vaccination rates using mobile services. The demand is not as high as it was at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, but even on this rainy day, around 30 people pass through every hour. The day before at the Bonn Opera, over 500 people came along in the space of four hours, and more than 5,000 have been in total.

“It's pleasant here, not so clinical”

Those who visit the vaccination bus are mostly young and come on the spur-of-the-moment. “Very rarely does someone over 80 come in for the third vaccination, and there are not many from the over 60 age group either,” says doctor Aliza Bredl. She is sitting at the back of the bus this time and administering the injections. Not looking like a doctor in a white coat, Bredl is wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The other helpers are also dressed casually. They could be ordinary passengers. Student Lisa Schbinn, who is currently watching Bredl inject Biontech into her left upper arm, particularly likes this. “It's pleasant here, not so clinical,” says the 21-year-old. She only decided to have the vaccination the night before after a long struggle. So far, she has been able to limit her number of contacts at the university due to the online courses, but this will become difficult when lectures start. So now she needs to get the jab quickly. “My doctor told me I had to wait two weeks because otherwise he couldn't get enough patients together for the vaccination campaign.”

Why people are using the vaccination bus

For many people it is now also about having more freedom. Bredl puts “freedom” in inverted commas with her fingers. What she means: no more free tests, the end of sick pay, possibly events that only those who are vaccinated or have recovered are allowed to attend. There is a certain pressure, she says, which is coupled with motivation, because in other countries with high vaccination rates, life is becoming more normal again. “Often people are poorly informed,” says Bredl. About the fact that vaccination gives protection and does not for example cause infertility, which she is repeatedly asked about. “Often there is also the question of whether a Corona test is positive after having had the vaccination.” Or what happens with sport or alcohol after having the jab. After a lot of Johnson & Johnson vaccines were needed at the beginning because only one injection was sufficient, Biontech is now more in demand with a share of about two thirds because it is approved for adolescents.

At first the tables were missing

Whilst other cities have had vaccination buses for a long time, Bonn was comparatively late in getting on board. “Cologne was able to start earlier with offering mobile vaccination due to the special vaccine quotas from the state of NRW,” says Bonn's deputy city spokesperson Marc Hoffmann. The medical profession had long since pointed out that, in addition to vaccination centres, there should also be low-threshold services that bring the vaccinations directly to the people. The bus in Bonn also got off to a rather bumpy start. Provided by the Stadtwerke, it was initially not much more than a colourful public bus. When the furnishings proved to be impractical, seats were subsequently removed and small tables were installed. There is still no room to draw up the syringes, so the pharmacists look for a place that is as sterile as possible in the immediate vicinity - usually the first-aid room in schools.

The city is publicising the dates in many places to ensure that as many people as possible come to the stops. Advertising is being made on social media, on bonn.de and on the large billboards in the city. “In addition, with the help of numerous partners and institutions, coronoa vaccinations are being promoted in the local neighbourhoods using flyers and through personal contact,” explains Hoffmann. But as the bus at Münsterplatz has showed, it also works without this. Here the date had not been arranged until the day before and could not be advertised at all.

Medical experts criticise change in vaccination campaign

Medical experts fear that the vaccination campaign will falter from the end of September. This is when the contracts with the vaccination staff concluded by the federal government and the state of NRW will expire. The Bonn vaccination centre has been closed since the beginning of the month. “The question is what will happen if there is to be a third vaccination,” says a Bonn doctor. The general practitioners, who the NRW Ministry of Health says are supposed to step in, would be overwhelmed by the rush of patients. A decree therefore demands that the municipalities set up coordination centres and maintain capacities in order to be prepared for another round of vaccinations.

Bonn city authorities assume that these “basic state structures” will initially be required until April 2022. The focus is on mobile vaccination services, for which they say the municipalities are responsible. The Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians is providing medical staff in support. “For the time being, the city authorities will continue to offer mobile vaccination campaigns driven by the incidence rates,” says Marc Hoffmann. So the scope of the campaign remains open. But the wheels on the vaccination buses should keep on rolling. (Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach, Translation: Caroline Kusch)