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Merkel urges compromise at start of tough coalition talks

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The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and their candidate Olaf Scholz narrowly won last Sunday’s vote on 25.7 percent. Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance plunged to an all-time low of 24.1 percent, as she prepares to leave the stage after 16 years in power.

While the result leaves the SPD in pole position to form a government, conservative leader Armin Laschet has also vowed to begin coalition talks in a last-ditch effort to keep the ailing CDU-CSU in power.

Speaking in front of party leaders at celebrations in Halle to mark German reunification in 1990, Merkel said the country once again had the opportunity to “shape” its next chapter.

“We can argue over exactly how in the future, but we know that the answer is in our hands, that we have to listen and speak with each other, that we have differences, but above all things in common,” Merkel said, in a clear reference to negotiations at hand.

In the complex calculations for a coalition, the make-up of the next German government essentially hinges on which of the two main parties can persuade the Greens and the liberal FDP to sign up for a partnership.

READ ALSO: German parties meet as coalition haggling begins

The SPD held talks with the FDP, described as “very constructive” by the Social Democrats’ general secretary Lars Klingbeil in a statement afterwards.

His FDP counterpart Volker Wissing said the parties’ “substantive positions on important points differ”, but also stressed that a reforming government needed to be formed to take on Germany’s biggest challenges.

The SPD subsequently had talks with the Greens, while their rivals, the CDU-CSU, also met with the FDP on Sunday evening. They will speak to the Greens on Tuesday.

‘Historic defeat’
The Social Democrats have discovered new momentum since snatching the close election win.

A poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday showed that 28 percent of the public would vote SPD if the election were rerun, up two percent from the election itself.

The conservative bloc meanwhile lost three percentage points.

Some 76 percent of respondents said they thought Scholz should be the next German chancellor, with just 13 percent backing Laschet.

Headshots of the SPD's Olaf Scholz (left) and the CDU's Armin Laschet

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz (left) and the CDU’s Armin Laschet pictured in Berlin and Aachen, respectively. Scholz narrowly won last week’s vote, but the conservatives have not given up yet and are also starting coalition talks. (Photos by HANNIBAL HANSCHKE and Ina Fassbender / various sources / AFP)

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel on Friday, Scholz said it was “clear from every poll that people don’t want the (CDU-CSU) to be part of the next government.

“The election result is clear. The CDU and CSU have suffered a historic defeat and have been voted out,” he said.

The FDP party is closer politically to the CDU than the SPD, but ahead of the talks, their leader Cristian Lindner put pressure on the conservatives. In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Lindner called on them to clarify whether they “really” wanted to govern.

But the conservatives are not giving up, with CSU general secretary Markus Blume insisting on Friday that a conservative-led coalition had a chance.

‘Democratic accomplishments’
In what was billed as perhaps her last major speech as chancellor, Merkel on Sunday appealed to her successors to defend democracy amid the scramble to form a government.

“We sometimes take our democratic accomplishments too lightly,” Germany’s long-standing leader said in her speech.

She called on the public to “reject radicalisation”, while referring to a neo-Nazi attack on a synagogue in the city where she was speaking two years earlier.

“Diversity and difference” were not threats to society, Merkel added, as Germany had shown in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The veteran politician, who lived in the communist east before reunification, was visibly moved as she described her own struggles with prejudice and called for more “respect” for the personal histories of east Germans.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s upcoming coalition talks

READ ALSO: ‘We lost’: CDU’s Laschet faces calls to resign over German election disaster



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HSE working to amend booster system as people receive multiple appointments

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) is working to amend the coronavirus vaccine system, as multiple channels offering third jabs has caused challenges for the booster campaign, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor has said.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Connor explained that the booster vaccine was available through vaccination centres, general practitioners and pharmacies.

Some people had gone to their local pharmacy to get their booster vaccine and then had received an appointment at a vaccination centre, she said. She called on people to cancel their vaccination centre appointment if they had received their booster through their GP or pharmacy.

Ms O’Connor’s comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that there were 87,000 no-shows for boosters last week, and the chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, Dr Denis McCauley, described the non-attendances as “very disrespectful”.

Ms O’Connor said the priority for the HSE was to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.

When asked about the lower levels of people in the 60-69 age cohort who have received their booster vaccine, Ms O’Connor said that not everyone in that age group would have had their second vaccine more than five months ago. That was “a natural limiter”.

Ms O’Connor said people possibly were apprehensive or busier, now that many were back at work or were preparing for Christmas, but the vaccine was important as was the booster.

To date more than a million people have received their booster vaccine, she added, and appointments will be offered to people aged between 50 and 59 from Thursday.

“We will also have walk-in centres open to people to get their vaccine and as ever we encourage everybody to avail of the vaccine. It’s really important, especially with a new variant, that we try to protect as many people as possible,” Ms O’Connor said.

‘Be respectful’

Meanwhile, Dr McAuley told Newstalk Breakfast that there were very few no-shows to booster appointments at GP surgeries, because people know their GP personally.

Now was not the time for “messing”, he said in relation to people failing to attend their appointments at vaccine centres.

“If you get a vaccine appointment, make sure that you go there rather than getting your hair done or going shopping – or if it is a work thing, stay on the helpline to get a new appointment.

“Be respectful of the mass vaccination centres. These are people who are working very hard and it is very disrespectful to have over 80,000 people not turn up in one week. It is not appropriate. You wouldn’t do it to your GP so why are you doing it to these healthcare workers.”

There was also a concern that some people were waiting to see what happens with the Omicron variant before getting their booster. Dr McCauley said that the booster would greatly reduce the chances of picking up the virus or having to go into hospital

Dr McCauley said there needed to be “a call to arms” for people to get vaccinated and he warned that when more information about Omicron emerged, booster appointments could be harder to come by.

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All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster

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People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.

The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.

Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.

The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.

What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?

It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.

Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?





Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland


10,093,390


8,193,802

In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.

This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.

Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.

The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.

What about the Omicron threat?

While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.

Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.

What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?

Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.

This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.

The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.

It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.

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Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare

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A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.

The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.

The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.

Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.

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