How is Omicron changing the vaccine mandate debate in Germany?

How is Omicron changing the vaccine mandate debate in Germany?

Although the Omicron variant of coronavirus seems to be much more infectious than previous variants, it also appears to cause milder courses of the disease. So what does this mean for the debate around a general vaccine mandate in Germany

Omicron changing the outlines of vaccine debate in Germany

The previous federal government had always strictly aligned itself against a vaccine mandate, but with the vaccination rate in Germany still well below target, in November the new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said he was in favour of a mandate to help protect vulnerable population groups and bring the pandemic to an end.

At the time, the Delta variant was dominant in Germany - highly infectious and potentially lethal. In the intervening few months, however, the Omicron variant has taken over. It is considered even more contagious - and more able to sidestep vaccination protection - but seems to cause milder infections. 

This has given rise to the hope that coronavirus may be mutating its way out, with politicians and virologists in Germany voicing the hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. 

Vaccine mandate not appropriate at the moment, critics argue

All of these developments have therefore strengthened the case against a general vaccination requirement, in the eyes of those who are critical of it. “Omicron is changing the rules of the game,” said Stephan Thomas, manager of the FDP parliamentary group, to the Süddeutsche Zeitung

“Now is not the time to just do anything and decide on the toughest possible measures just to show that we are ready to act,” he added. “It’s about doing the right thing at the right time.” 

Just a few days ago, the chairperson of the German Ethics Council, Alena Buyx, made it clear in an interview with Der Spiegel that the council might have to reconsider its recommendation for a general vaccine mandate based on the current COVID situation. As she explained, the previous decision was reached when Delta was still the dominant COVID variant in Germany, and the situation looked quite different. 

Karl Lauterbach still in favour of compulsory vaccination

Proponents of the vaccine mandate, however, have been quick to point out that new variants could be on the horizon - some of which may not be so mild - and that vaccination is the best way of protecting oneself against future infections. 

“Unvaccinated people who contract Omicron now, will have little protection against other variants in the autumn,” Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wrote on Twitter this weekend. “Omicron does not replace vaccinations.” He is adamant that his position on the vaccination mandate has not changed. 

This position was backed up by Klaus Holetschek (CDU), the State Health Minister in Bavaria. “I think we will only get out of this pandemic if we introduce compulsory vaccination now - no matter which variant,” he said to Bild TV.

Ultimately, the matter is expected to go to the Bundestag in the coming months, and representatives will be given a free vote, rather than being asked to vote according to their parliamentary affiliation. The FDP has been most outspoken in its opposition to the mandate, while the SPD is broadly in favour. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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