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FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s vaccine advisory panel STIKO will be expanded to include more experts on pandemics, following controversy over the speed of the recommendations the panel has given during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The federal health minister, medicine hat home show recently at odds with STIKO’s view on a second booster shot, has agreed with the panel’s president Thomas Mertens that a pandemic working group with added external experts will be incorporated into STIKO.

In a statement on Thursday, Germany’s federal infectious disease body, the Robert Koch institute, which provides the infrastructure for STIKO’s work, said that communication between the health ministry and STIKO would also be improved.

Health minister Karl Lauterbach made the case in June that anyone should consider a fourth COVID-19 shot regardless of age, and not hold out for a planned introduction of variant-adapted shots in the fall.

That drew public criticism from Mertens, who said in a newspaper interview there was no data to support such a move. STIKO has so far recommended a fourth shot for those 70 years and older, among other groups.

STIKO, a panel of 18 independent appointees, in May underscored its cautious approach by saying that just one COVID shot was enough for healthy five- to 11-year-old children. That contrasted with European Union regulators’ approval for a two-shot regimen in that age group.

STIKO’s previous view on those children, published in December, was to limit vaccinations to those at risk of developing severe COVID-19 or those living with an at-risk person, drawing criticism at the time for not keeping up with the pace of infections.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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