German chemicals firms push for role in vaccination drive

Author: Tom Brown

2021/04/15

LONDON (ICIS)--Larger German chemicals firms are pushing for a more direct role in the deployment of vaccines in Germany, while the country's chemicals major BASF has received the green light for a pilot project to inoculate employees at Ludwigshafen flagship site.

With the rollout of vaccines in Germany lagging behind many of its peers, including the US and UK, German industrial players have been pushing for a stronger role in the programme, under a mooted  initiative known as Arbeitsmedizinischer Dienst, or “company doctor”.

A spokesperson for German chemicals trade group VCI said to ICIS: “VCI and the Employers' Association of the Chemical Industry (BAVC) have been publicly campaigning for weeks for the 1,200 company doctors in the companies of the chemical-pharmaceutical industry to also be able to carry out vaccinations among employees.

“The sole aim is to accelerate the progress of the national vaccination programme,” it added.

BASF has become one of the first firms to start to vaccinate its employees under a pilot project being run by the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which will see the firm start to vaccinate the nearly 40,000 employees at its Ludwigshafen Verbund site.

The company has received its first batch of vaccines after the state accredited a specially set up centre at the complex as an official coronavirus vaccination centre.

Vaccines are distributed by the federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Health and Demography.

The first employees at the site have already received doses, but the programme is at present open purely to employees, and not to the wider Ludwigshafen population.

As the scheme progresses, there is potential to widen the drive to employee relatives, but at present it is unlikely to extend to BASF employees at other sites in Germany, according to the spokesperson.

WHO SHOULD BE OFFERED THE VACCINE
The pace of vaccination cannot exceed the national programme in terms of who is offered vaccines, with rollout at the site open so far only to those in ‘group 2’, including those aged 70 and up, those with serious pre-existing conditions, and people who have contact with pregnant women.

“The program is in first place for BASF employees in Ludwigshafen. In the further course we also examine to enable a vaccination offer for the relatives of the employees and partner companies at the site,” a BASF spokesperson said.

The shift comes as a third wave of widespread coronavirus infection crashes through Germany and several other European countries.

German ministers on Tuesday agreed new legislation giving the federal government the power to mandate a set of rules that regions suffering with high infection rates will be required to enforce, referred to as a “national emergency brake” by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

CORPORATE GERMANY NEEDS FASTER ROLL-OUT
The growing focus on vaccination of the employees of Germany’s blue chip companies also underlines the country’s focus on maintaining the pace of its industrial rebound, the engine of the country’s growth.

Chemicals producers and other industrial players have been forced to adopt new measures to allow pandemic protocols on factory floors, including mandating distances between employees, and staggered arrival and departure times.

Chemicals and pharmaceutical major Bayer has also been mooted in media reports as another key potential player in the scheme, but vaccination at Leverkusen has yet to begin, according to a spokesperson.

“In Germany, we are currently in the preparatory phase to start vaccinating as soon as plant and company physicians are involved in the vaccination campaign and sufficient vaccine is available. We hope to be able to start in the second quarter,” it said.

“Bayer is offering the authorities vaccination support from site and company physicians to help speed up the vaccination coverage of the population. It will also enable us to make it as easy as possible for employees to access vaccination as soon as vaccine is available for everyone.”

Other German chemicals producers are also keen to become involved in the programme.

“As soon as sufficient vaccines are available, Evonik would like to support the German government's vaccination campaign through the physicians it has at its sites,” said a spokesperson at the Essen-headquartered producer.

“We have the facilities to do so and would like to contribute. We are ready to assist with vaccination."

This week, the German federal government also passed regulation ordering employers to offer coronavirus testing at the workplace.

Front page picture: A woman waits after her vaccination in Ebersberg, Germany
Source: Matthias Schrader/AP/Shutterstock

Focus article by Tom Brown

(Clarification: recasts lead)