Covid-19 vaccine: First claims in Germany about ‘side effects’


The vaccine manufacturer BioNTech was dragged to court over alleged side effects that some patients reportedly developed after being vaccinated with BioNTech’s vaccine against Covid-19.

The vaccines, which were developed at an incredible speed after the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 and which were granted early approval for use, are currently the focus of legal action in several countries, including France and Britain.

Plaintiffs argue the vaccines harmed their health.

A court in Hamburg was supposed to hear a case against BioNTech, which together with the American giant Pfizer produced the first mRNA vaccine – Comirnaty – on Monday. However, the case was postponed after the plaintiff’s lawyers contested the judge’s impartiality at the eleventh hour and asked that a panel of judges hear the case instead.

This applicant claims that she developed several side effects after receiving BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine. These include pain in the upper body, swelling of the limbs, fatigue and sleep disturbance.

She demands €150 000 (about R2 million) in damages and an acknowledgment that the “defendant is obliged” to pay material damages.

Her lawyer, Thomas Ulbrich, who also represents 250 other plaintiffs in similar cases, says his clients were “all healthy” before they were vaccinated. He believes his clients’ medical files show a clear connection between the vaccines and the symptoms his clients experience.

BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, a scientific breakthrough, was already granted conditional marketing authorization by the EU regulatory authority EMA on 21 December 2020.

Similar authorization for Moderna, another mRNA vaccine manufacturer, followed soon after.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute, which regulates vaccines in Germany, says out of the 192 million doses administered in Germany, 338,857 suspected cases of side effects have been reported. This includes 54,879 cases of serious reactions.

This includes incidents from stroke to thrombosis and heart disease, says another German lawyer, Joachim Caesar-Preller. He represents 140 clients who are believed to have developed symptoms after vaccination.

He is demanding up to €1 million in damages per case – plus interest – but admits that there is an uphill battle ahead when it comes to court cases.

The courts will have to decide whether the side effects of the medication, when used correctly, exceed “a justifiable level according to the findings of medical science”.

In other words, the consequences must be serious enough to be taken into account, explains Anatol Dutta, a professor at the University of Munich.

A plaintiff, identified only as Kathrin K (45), believes her symptoms are serious enough.

According to Kathrin, she lost a lot of weight after receiving the vaccine. She has also had to undergo several intestinal surgeries since then.

“I hate it when people tell me I’m an isolated case,” she says. “I’m not.”

More than 8,000 similar applications have been submitted since April, of which around 5% have so far been successful, according to the German media.

However, BioNTech told AFP that the number of liability claims filed against the company is very small compared to the number of doses administered worldwide.

The vaccine manufacturer demands that each case be investigated individually.