By Ludwig Burger and Riham Alkousaa
BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany's vaccine advisory committee on Thursday endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for those 70 years and older as well as medical staff interacting with patients, even as the nation's health system is already giving boosters to those over 60.
The expert panel, known as STIKO, said a repeat shot of mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna should be given six months at the earliest after the initial standard course.
"Vaccine protection is decreasing over time in particular with regard to preventing asymptomatic infections and mild disease forms. With older age the immune response after vaccination takes an overall weaker form and breakthrough infections can more frequently lead to severe disease," STIKO said.
Anyone who received Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine should get an mRNA booster four weeks after the initial dose because the rate of breakthrough infections for J&J's vaccine had been the highest among the approved shots, it added.
Decision makers in public health have not waited for the experts' word.
On Sept. 6, health ministers of the country's regional states and the federal minister Jens Spahn agreed to widen the groups eligible for a third shot to people over 60 who had consulted their physician.
They also included nursing home staff and anyone likely to work closely with infected people.
One month prior to that, the group decided to offer booster shots to people with weakened immune systems, people in nursery care and those over 80 years and people who received a full course of vector shots by AstraZeneca and J&J.
The European Union's drugs regulator said on Monday people with weakened immune systems should get a third dose of a vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, but left it to member states to decide if the wider population should have a booster.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Alison Williams)