FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany must revamp its COVID-19 vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant and to ensure it can develop a new vaccine rapidly if it faces a more deadly coronavirus variant in the future, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said.
Lauterbach, who was appointed health minister last month, made his comments in an advanced release of an interview to be published in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.
"If we get a variant that is as contagious as Omicron, but significantly more deadly, we should be able to develop and produce a new vaccine in a very short time," Lauterbach said.
The government is planning to put a permanent system in place to purchase and provide shots rapidly at any given time because there could be serious new outbreaks, he said.
"We must not fall into the naive assumption that it (the pandemic) will be over soon. It's not over," he said.
Germany closed large vaccination centres in several states last summer when demand for COVID-19 shots briefly declined to a trickle before picking up again.
The Omicron variant now accounts for 44% of coronavirus infections in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious disease said.
On Saturday, the RKI counted 55,889 newly reported corona infections within 24 hours, more than double the number a week earlier.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders tightened the rules for restaurant and bar visits on Friday as part of efforts to encourage more people to get a third vaccination, or booster shot, but shortened quarantine periods.
The Bundestag lower house of parliament will also soon discuss a draft bill for a general vaccination mandate.
(Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by Timothy Heritage)