Germany: Lawmakers to debate COVID vaccine mandate
Berlin, Jan 26: Lawmakers in Germany's Bundestag are set to discuss the possibility of introducing mandatory vaccines against coronavirus as the country continues to break daily records of infections.
The debate over the vaccine mandate has evolved over the last year, with major figures such as Chancellor Olaf Scholz declaring their support for the idea after initially rejecting it.
But the coalition government does not want to impose a decision from above, but rather let lawmakers arrive at their preferred option through debate.
And there are several options on the table — including the option of not introducing a vaccine mandate at all.
For the almost 20% of the population who remain unvaccinated, this may be the preferred choice, but a majority of Germans have shown support for the mandate.
What are the options being debated?
One option is no longer up for debate: mandatory vaccines for workers in hospitals and care homes. This has already been decided and will come into effect in March.
As for the question of a broader mandate, the model recommended by Germany's Health Minister Karl Lauterbach — who is also a trained physician — is a general mandate for everyone aged 18 and above.
This is the option taken by the Austrian, with the mandate coming into effect in early February.
The majority of Germany's Ethics Council — the body of experts that advises the Bundestag on a range of ethical questions — have also come out in favor of a general mandate for adults, German public broadcaster Tagesschau reported.
However, the remaining members of the council, as well as health policy lawmakers from the neoliberal Free Democrats Party (FDP) and the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) would prefer a mandate just for those aged 50 and over.
This would follow the example set already by Italy, with Greece and the Czech Republic having also implemented similar rules for over-60s.
A third option, proposed by members of the FDP, is a gradual introduction of measures that increase based on vaccine uptake. For example, the first proposed step would be a mandatory explanation from a doctor, then if the uptake fails to increase, a mandate for the over-50s.
What's different about this debate?
The coalition government, led by Scholz's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and including the environmentalist Green Party and the FDP, hold a majority in the Bundestag but have said that lawmakers can vote as they please.
This means that various proposals will be introduced and discussed rather than the vote being enforced from above.
Scholz has been accused of not showing enough leadership with regards to the vaccine mandate, something that he rejected in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday.
"I made it clear already in November that I support a vaccine mandate," the chancellor said.
What does the German public think about vaccine mandates?
Popular support for mandatory vaccines has grown over time. Polls went from no clear sign either way in the summer of 2021 to clear support for the mandate by November.
A recent YouGov survey commissioned by German news agency dpa showed that some 60% of Germans support the introduction of compulsory vaccinations against 32% who were against.
Just under 75% of people in Germany are fully vaccinated — and slightly over half have received a booster shot — placing Germany behind other countries in Western Europe.
The rate of vaccination varies significantly based on regions, however, with northern German states such as Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Bremen close to or above 80% vaccinated while states in eastern Germany are contending with much lower rates, reaching just 63% in Saxony, according to the government's vaccine dashboard.
Opponents of vaccines have continued to defy hygiene rules, taking to the streets in unofficial protests that have frequently seen violence and participation by the far-right.
Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier