Germany: Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination rejected by growing chorus of politicians and health officials

Germany appears set on pushing ahead with mandatory vaccination plans, but there are a number of health officials, politicians, and journalists who are raising the alarm

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: John Cody
FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020 file photo, a resident of a nursing home gets an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine in Cologne, Germany. Thousands of elderly Germans faced online error messages and jammed up hotlines Monday Jan. 25, 2021, as technical problems marred the start of the coronavirus vaccine campaign for over-80s in the country's most populous state. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

While the idea of mandatory vaccination is supported by much of Germany’s political establishment, a number of authoritative voices are coming out against the plans, raising doubts about the divisive proposal.

Arguably the most prominent voice to come against mandatory vaccination is Thomas Merten, the head of Germany’s Standing Vaccination Committee (STIKO), which is the leading authority in the country on vaccination recommendations.

“It divides society, there is too much pressure,” he warned.

Merten also said that he would not let his child receive a COVID-19 vaccination either. He later apologized for injecting his personal life into a public debate, but never retracted his statement that he would not allow his child to be vaccinated.

However, he is not the only one raising concerns.

The chairman of the board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, also slammed the government’s plans for compulsory vaccinations. He told Germany’s Bild, “We will not have to ask our doctors to carry out vaccination against the will of the patient.” He emphasized that medical practices are not the place to enforce government measures, but instead live based on the vital trust shared between the patients and their doctors. He said if such vaccinations must be enforced, it must be done at public facilities, since doctors should not be asked to take on such a task.

The Vice-Chairman of Germany’s Medical Association, Stefan Hofmeier, made a similar statement. “The decision to vaccinate is a political one. If the federal government wants to pass this, it must also take care of the implementation.”

The federal chairman of the German Association of Civil Servants, Ulrich Silberbach, has also criticized the federal government’s plans for general vaccination. 

He has been warning for many years that a policy of staff shortages in the civil service is completely misguided and will eventually reach its limits. “Even today, 330,000 employees are missing to fulfill all the politically specified tasks in a meaningful way. At the same time, 1.3 million of the approximately five million employees and civil servants will retire in the next ten years alone,” warned Silberbach.

Should Germany’s Bundestag decide to make vaccination compulsory, it should be clear how it is to be implemented. “A policy that does not bother to answer such questions is window dressing at the expense of the public service, its employees and trust in the state, ” he warned. He also said the new federal government is in danger of losing its grip on reality.

Is the vaccine mandate constitutional?

Before the Germany’s federal elections late last year, foreign minister at the time, Heiko Maas, said that mandatory vaccination would not happen and would likely violate the country’s Basic Law.

“There won’t be because we don’t consider it necessary, because we also consider it difficult from a constitutional point of view,” he said.

It is a view backed by constitutional lawyer and former CDU federal minister Rupert Scholz, who said in an interview that mandatory vaccinations would likely not pass muster with Germany’s Constitutional Court.

Hans-Jürgen Papier, former president of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, and previously the highest-ranking judge in the nation, also questioned whether the mandate would pass constitutional muster in an interview in December.

“I’m not saying that a corona vaccination requirement has to be unconstitutional from the outset. However, it must be carefully examined what purpose it serves: in addition to self-protection, does it protect the life and health of large parts of the population and the purpose of protecting the public health system from being completely overloaded? A general obligation to vaccinate could then be justified if it is suitable and necessary in this respect. However, I dare to doubt that these conditions can currently be sufficiently proven,” he said.

Could mandate split society?

Germany’s current health minister, Latuerbach, is an avid proponent of a vaccine mandate and very popular in Germany, currently sitting at a 66 percent approval rating, as a majority of citizens back his policies, including a mandatory vaccine mandate.

However, it was only months ago that the previous health minister, Jens Spahn, was opposed to a mandate, a position he has kept since leaving office. Despite the fourth wave that was hitting Germany right before he left office, he said a general vaccination requirement would be unenforceable. 

“That would tear our country apart,” he told Der Spiegel.

In an opinion piece for Deutsche Welle, the paper’s head of fact-checking, also issued a warning about implementing a vaccine mandate:

“If all the promises from politicians that vaccinations would always remain voluntary suddenly evaporate into thin air, those populists and peddlers of conspiracy theories would win. They will see truth in the fictions of a conspiracy among politicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the media to force vaccinations on everyone. It would result in a not-so-small minority of people turning their backs on government and democracy,” he wrote.

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