Covid: Germany debates the mandatory nature of the vaccine in the midst of a record number of infections | Society


German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Wednesday during his speech in the Bundestag.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Wednesday during his speech in the Bundestag.FILIP SINGER (EFE)

Germany is encountering more problems than its chancellor, Olaf Scholz, anticipated when last November he announced the mandatory nature of the vaccine. Then the fourth wave, of the delta variant, had the hospitals gripped, which found themselves in a matter of a few weeks with all their intensive care beds occupied. But the omicron wave has changed things. The consensus back then has faded. Despite registering record numbers of infections, the first debate in the Bundestag (Lower House) has highlighted the diversity of opinions, also among the partners of the tripartite Government, on the need to impose punctures on the nearly 11 million adults who remain unvaccinated.

Just the day two years after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Germany, that of a worker at the Webasto company in Bavaria, the weekly incidence has risen above 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the barrier has been overcome of the 200,000 infections in 24 hours. In cities like Berlin, the school in which positives have not been detected in recent days is becoming rare. Given the avalanche of cases, the city government has exempted parents from taking their children to class for two weeks.

Hospitalization rates, on the other hand, remain stable. In fact, the occupancy of the ICUs, which still care for many patients who became seriously ill in the wave of November and December, is slightly decreasing. The greater lightness of the omicron variant has caused popular support to decline for a measure as controversial as compulsory vaccination. The deputies also now have more doubts than before. They exposed them in a debate of orientation, this Thursday in the Bundestag. It was held with no bill yet reaching the chamber and with parliamentarians speaking on their own behalf. The issue is so delicate, and has so many ethical connotations, that the parties have given their members freedom to vote.

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The Minister of Health, the Social Democrat Karl Lauterbach, is in favor of the compulsory vaccine for those over 18 years of age. He vehemently defended it and warned that it must come into force as soon as possible to avoid greater evils in the fall. “I do not know any scientist at the international level who ensures that the omicron variant is going to be the last,” he said. No one rules out, he added, that a new one appears that combines mutations of the existing ones and makes it dangerous. “We have to be prepared and the only way is to protect each other with vaccines,” he added. Lauterbach, the most highly valued politician right now in Germany, turned to the philosopher Hegel during his speech: “Vaccination will allow us to regain freedom; it is the virus that confines us. Hegel said, and I think he is right: ‘Freedom is the recognition of necessity’.

Among the 44 deputies who took the floor, he highlighted an intermediate path, the one proposed, for example, by the Minister of Justice, the liberal Marco Buschmann. In his opinion, we must look for “softer alternatives”. If the experts assure that the greatest concern is those over 50 years of age, perhaps it would be necessary to consider making it mandatory only after that age. From a constitutional point of view, he added, it would be difficult to justify the forced vaccine at all ages when what it is about is avoiding the collapse of the health system.

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The opposition deputies, the Christian Democrats of the CDU, mostly supported the vaccine from the age of 18, and took the opportunity to criticize the Government for Scholz’s “lack of leadership” and the lack of unanimity among the members of the tripartite. During the month of January, the opposition has repeatedly charged the chancellor for his hesitation in imposing what he promised in November. They displease him that he has not presented a bill as would be done with any other matter and that the debate has been delayed in such a way that it is already impossible to enter into force between February and March, as initially planned.

Fear of hospital overload

Experts warn that the situation may worsen and warn of a future overload of hospitals. “The number of new infections will increase further and will probably peak in mid-February,” forecasts epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs. It coincides with the predictions of Minister Lauterbach, who calculates almost half a million daily infections by then. The German vaccination rate (72.5%) is still low compared to other Western European countries, so it still has a large vulnerable population at risk.

Added to this is another problem: “We are seeing how more and more staff have to isolate or be in quarantine, and also many are leaving their jobs forever due to overload and the permanent state of emergency,” adds Ulrichs. Germany maintains restrictions that make it difficult for the unvaccinated to socialize indoors. In bars and restaurants, the covid passport with the booster dose or a recent negative test result is required.

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The parliamentary processing of the mandatory vaccine will continue in March, when one or more bills will be presented and voted on. The Greens, Scholz’s government partners along with the Liberals, were divided on the measure. Also in Die Linke, the left, there are different sensibilities. Only among the members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was there unanimity. All rejected forced immunization. The party has tried to capitalize on the population’s weariness by opposing the restrictions and giving wings to denier and anti-vaccine movements. Alice Weidel, her parliamentary spokesperson, described the measure as “authoritarianism” and assured that it has “no medical, ethical or legal justification.”

According to the German media, at least two bills promoted by groups of deputies will reach Parliament. One, of members of the coalition, will bet on compulsory vaccination for all adults and on fines to force compliance. The other, promoted by liberal parliamentarians, opts for a two-step plan. First, force those who refuse to be vaccinated to attend a counseling session with a doctor. If that does not improve vaccination rates, it would become mandatory, but from the age of 50.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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