Martin Mair in conversation with Stephan Karkowsky

Politicians want to offer a vaccination offer to all children aged twelve and over – Stiko does not currently recommend vaccinating children in general. (imago / Sven Simon)

The Standing Committee on Immunization is supposed to advise policy. Now, however, state and federal government health ministers have ignored the experts and decided: All federal states want to offer children from the age of twelve an offer of vaccination.

How is the Permanent Vaccinations Commission made up?

The Standing Committee on Immunization (Stiko) is an independent committee of experts that was founded about 50 years ago, in 1972. “Stiko was started because there were discussions at the time about who should be vaccinated? “, explains science journalist Martin Mair. At the time, it was the measles vaccine, which was fairly new in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

There are twelve to 18 experts at Stiko who are appointed for three years. This permanent team can then benefit from external assistance. “The idea behind it is to say: we want as balanced scientific advice as possible on the big emotional question of vaccination,” Mair said.

How does the Stiko work?

When a vaccine is approved, authorities check whether it is effective and safe. The immunization committee builds on this and examines the risk-benefit ratio for an entire population or a population group. This can then be used to develop vaccination strategies. The Stiko made recommendations as to who should be vaccinated against Covid-19 first. There is currently a debate on the risk-benefit ratio for children 12 years of age and older.

Vaccines such as those from Moderna and Biontech are approved for children aged 12 and over, but Stiko currently recommends that only previously sick children be vaccinated. However, the Stiko checks the data over and over again, so Mair. If there is new knowledge, the Stiko adjusts its recommendation.

How binding are Stiko’s recommendations?

Stiko’s recommendations are not legally binding. “There is no general compulsory vaccination against certain diseases in Germany,” explains Mair. However, many physicians use the Stiko recommendation as a guide.

“But when parents say I want to get my child vaccinated because I want to protect him from Corona, it can be done because they are choosing a vaccine that has been approved,” says Mair.

Do the structures of the Stiko need to be fundamentally rethought?

“I don’t think so, because I think the Stiko procedure has already been proven,” says Mair. The expert panel is independent and this basic idea is very good. You need a committee that uses evidence-based medicine to assess the cost-benefit ratios.

“It has mostly gone quietly over the past 50 years. Now the pandemic has put Stiko, like many other things, under a magnifying glass. But fundamentally questioning the structure – in my view it there is no reason to do it, ”says Mair.