Bundestag debates compulsory COVID vaccinations in Germany
With the war in Ukraine and skyrocketing energy prices dominating the headlines, the debate on compulsory vaccinations in Germany has understandably taken a backseat. On Thursday, however, the Bundestag will debate the different proposals for the first time.
Vaccine mandate proposals being debated in German parliament
Cases of coronavirus may be reaching new heights in Germany, but the vaccination rate is continuing to sink day by day, as most people’s thoughts turn to the lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks and the “end” of the pandemic.
But 23,5 percent of the population (more than 19,6 million people) are still not vaccinated - or 15,6 million, if you discount the 4 million children aged between zero and four, for whom no vaccine is currently available.
This is a grave concern for some figures within the German government, who see compulsory vaccination as a necessary measure to prepare for the autumn, to protect the healthcare system and to overcome the pandemic in the long term. On the other hand, opponents of the motion argue that it is not necessary, or alternatively that vaccinations should only be compulsory for certain vulnerable population groups.
These debates have now crystallised into three group motions and two draft laws on a general vaccine mandate in Germany, which will be debated during the session on Thursday. Here’s a brief overview of what’s being discussed.
Bill 1: Vaccine mandate for all adults in Germany
The first bill - put together by members of all three of the ruling parties - provides for a general vaccine mandate for all adults over the age of 18. The measure would likely come into effect in autumn or winter 2022.
The bill’s writers argue that a mandate is justified on the basis that, even with the Omicron variant now the dominant strain in Germany, being vaccinated provides “very good protection against a severe COVID-19 disease” and that unvaccinated people of all age groups have a significantly higher risk of contracting the disease and having a severe course.
This bill has the support of Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.
Bill 2: Compulsory vaccinations for people aged 50+
The second option currently on the table would be a vaccine mandate for all people aged 50 and above only. This has been put forward by the FDP health chairperson Andrew Ullmann and his supporters. The basis of the measure is the argument that healthy people under the age of 50 are unlikely to represent a significant burden on hospitals should they contract coronavirus.
The law would also see all unvaccinated adults above the age of 18 asked to attend an advice session with a doctor, to discuss any concerns they might have, with the hope of encouraging more people to get vaccinated voluntarily. It is therefore seen as a kind of “middle ground” between a general vaccination requirement and having no mandate at all.
Bill 3: No vaccine mandate
The final motion is an outright rejection of the vaccine mandate. This is being advocated by Wolfgang Kubicki of the FDP, who is also the Deputy President of the Bundestag. His main argument is that a vaccination that “does not achieve full immunity” cannot be justified under constitutional law. “This is what differentiates a vaccination against Sars-CoV-2 from the vaccination against measles or smallpox,” he said.
When will the matter be settled?
A final vote on the issue is not planned until early April. Chancellor Scholz has already confirmed that so-called party voting will be lifted for the vote, meaning that MPs can make their own decision, without being guided by their party affiliation. Currently, it doesn’t look like any of the draft laws will achieve a majority in parliament, so the road could be a long one.
Should a general vaccine mandate pass, it would not come into effect until the autumn. For example, the proposal currently being debated envisages a start date of October 1, 2022.