Explainer-Germany plans vaccine mandate amid qualms over rights

January 25, 2022

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) – German lawmakers are due to debate introducing a bill making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory. The idea is facing resistance from politicians as well as ordinary Germans.

Some of the main issues:

Why does Germany want to introduce a vaccine mandate?

The government is worried that rising COVID-19 infections and the risk of new variants could strain the health system next autumn or winter. It wants to increase vaccination rate significantly by then.

In Germany, around 75% of the population has received at least one shot against the virus – lower than other western European countries such as France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands on 80%, 86%, 83% and 77% respectively.

When and how does Germany plan to introduce such a mandate?

The government wants to allow lawmakers to freely put forward proposals for a vaccine mandate. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said this parliamentary procedure “gives the process the grandeur it needs.”

On Wednesday, Germany’s lower house of parliament will debate the topic. Details of the bill will be finalised after the debate, and a draft law should be ready for a vote in parliament by March.

However, it’s not clear if a future bill can muster a majority to pass. Some lawmakers from the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats – the junior coalition partners of Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) – are opposed to the measure.

At what age would the mandate be introduced?

Scholz wants the mandate to apply to everyone aged 18 and older. Austria has set the same age for its vaccine mandate.

Other lawmakers suggested imposing the mandate on over 50s as they have a higher risk of developing life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms. A similar step was taken in Italy.

How many doses would the mandate impose? For how long would the law be valid?

The bill could impose three doses of vaccination and will have a time limit set by experts, said Dirk Wiese, a lawmaker involved in initiating the bill.

“It certainly will not be for just a few months, but rather one to two years,” Wiese told DPA news agency.

What happens if people don’t get vaccinated?

Refusing vaccination entails a financial penalty in line with a person’s income, Wiese said.

What do Germans think of vaccine mandates? Which parties are for or against it?

Around 60% of Germans are in favour of a vaccine mandate, a YouGov survey showed on Sunday.

A poll by ZDF broadcaster earlier this month showed that more than 70% of Germans affiliated with the Greens, the Social Democrats and the conservatives are for a vaccine mandate.

Only 52% of FDP voters and supporters of the leftist Die Linke party support a vaccination mandate, the ZDF poll showed. Only 10% of voters who support the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party support mandatory vaccination.

What are the main obstacles facing a vaccine mandate?

The bill could face a legal challenge as it’s seen by some as a violation of the constitution’s second article, which guarantees citizens’ right to self-determination over their own bodies.

“The state is violating that right to physical integrity when it says ‘I dictate that you must take this drug’,” said Steffen Rabe, the chairman of “Doctors for Individual Vaccination Decisions” association which opposes a mandate.

The absence of a general registry for vaccination could be another obstacle, as it limits the government’s ability to monitor who is vaccinated and who isn’t.

Setting up a vaccination registry takes a long time and is controversial given Germany’s strict privacy and data protection laws, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said last week.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Joseph Nasr and William Maclean)

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