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COVID-19 vaccination requirement – no clear picture in politics and science | Germany | DW

 COVID-19 vaccination requirement - no clear picture in politics and science |  Germany |  DW

The longer the debate about the introduction of compulsory vaccination in Germany lasts, the more the front of its supporters seems to be crumbling. “It divides society, because too much pressure is built up,” said the chairman of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), Thomas Mertens, on Thursday the “Stuttgarter Nachrichten” and the “Stuttgarter Zeitung”. Even before the end of the year, it looked as if there was broad agreement in society and politics that the only way to stop the pandemic would be to quickly introduce legislation introducing compulsory vaccination. With the exception of the AfD, politicians from all parties spoke out in favor, moving away from previous promises not to introduce compulsory vaccination against COVID-19. The majority of the German Ethics Council also advocated extending compulsory vaccination to employees in the healthcare sector, but at the same time called for accompanying measures such as low-threshold vaccinations and the introduction of a national vaccination register. Public approval was also high given the rapidly increasing number of infections.

Omicron changes the political debate

But it is precisely the fourth wave of the pandemic that is now leading to a revival of the debate and to new proposals. The Omicron wave has been rolling across the country since the beginning of the year. The virus variant is also spreading among vaccinated and boosted people and can no longer be stopped by compulsory vaccination. “For the Omicron variant, compulsory vaccination no longer plays a decisive role,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the news portal “ThePioneer” on Thursday. So no reason for the federal government to force the legislative process and risk a conflict in its own coalition to do so? At least in the FDP parliamentary group, there is great skepticism. A general obligation to vaccinate is a serious encroachment on fundamental rights and therefore unjustifiable, according to a group of MPs led by Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki. Many opponents of compulsory vaccination refer to Article 2 of the Basic Law, which stipulates the right to physical integrity. However, according to a recent Civey survey commissioned by Spiegel, 64 percent of Germans are in favor of general compulsory vaccination against COVID-19, around nine percent fewer than a month ago. This majority sees their freedom restricted by measures that could possibly be omitted if there was a higher vaccination rate in Germany. As a compromise proposal, FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr has now brought up a vaccination requirement limited to one year, a vaccination requirement on a trial basis, so to speak.

The decision lies with Parliament

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, both SPD, are still in favor of compulsory vaccination. Both clearly acknowledged this conviction in the Bundestag. However, they do not want to submit their own draft law and are instead relying on cross-party proposals from the ranks of parliament. The MPs should work this out in an “open debate,” Scholz said on Wednesday before the Bundestag. This contributes to the “pacification of the political discussion”. “I hope that there will be quick, good advice with a corresponding result. In any case, I think it is necessary and I will actively support it.” At the end of January, the MPs are to exchange views in an “orientation debate”. Only then should motions by individual groups of MPs be submitted, which should then be decided upon in a free vote. Unlike usual: the parliamentary groups vote as one on most decisions. The FDP parliamentary group leader Dürr welcomed this: “From our point of view, the whole thing is a medical-ethical question and not a party-political one.” The plan to introduce a general obligation to vaccinate by March is therefore unlikely to be sustainable. And it is still unclear what would be meant by “general vaccination requirement”: a vaccination for everyone from the age of twelve or 18? Or only for older people who are at particularly high risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19? Or only compulsory vaccination for certain professional groups? So many questions are open. But what do scientists, physicians, physicists, statisticians say? Are they mostly for or against compulsory vaccination – in whatever form it would then be implemented?

Scientific reasons for compulsory vaccination

For the overwhelming majority of them it is clear: Vaccination protects, there is no question about that and it has not only been the case since the COVID-19 pandemic. The success story of vaccination goes back much further. For example in containing polio, tetanus and diphtheria. The same applies to measles: The German Measles Protection Act, which came into force on March 1, 2020, only requires vaccination for school and kindergarten children. Numerous studies show that the vaccination and in particular the third vaccination significantly reduces the probability of a severe course of COVID-19 disease. This also applies to a study by a research team with the participation of scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, published in the specialist journal Cell at the end of December. However, they also found that previous vaccines against the new omicron virus variant are less effective than against previous variants.

Compulsory vaccination: discussion par excellence

As with other measures against the spread of the corona pandemic, the difficulty remains for politicians: they have to make decisions, even if scientific findings are not clear or change over time. The benefit of vaccination against severe COVID-19 courses is scientifically proven. However, this does not automatically result in a scientific recommendation for compulsory vaccination. Because “the obligation to vaccinate is a political tool,” says the virologist Christian Drosten on January 4th in the NDR coronavirus update – one of several. For example, politics can also focus on education, on motivation, on stimulation, according to Drosten.

For or against? Differentiate please

The medical evidence for vaccination should not be confused with behavioral evidence, emphasizes Professor Martin Scherer, President of the German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine (DEGAM) in a podcast of the Ärzte-Zeitung. “So someone can be in favor of vaccination, but against the instrument of compulsory vaccination. If someone is against compulsory vaccination, they are by no means opposed to vaccination. And anyone who warns against the introduction of partial vaccination, for example, is by no means making an unscientific argument.” If the entire population for which a vaccine is approved was vaccinated, there would not be so many seriously ill people in intensive care units. A functioning mandatory vaccination against COVID would therefore be an effective tool to protect against severe disease progression and to relieve the burden on hospitals.

For an obligation to inform

A contra-argument from behavioral science: The psychological reactance, i.e. the psychological side effect of mandatory vaccination, is not foreseeable. People who were previously skeptical could become vaccination refusers, and resistance could continue to grow. Other skeptics, on the other hand, could feel relieved because the decision would be made for them. Education and advice remain elementary even with compulsory vaccination Martin Scherer emphasizes that compulsory vaccination should not be the only instrument, but must be accompanied by accompanying measures to increase acceptance. The obligation to vaccinate does not release you from the information. The virologist Christian Drosten speaks out neither for nor against compulsory vaccination, since the political discussion is not his “métier as a scientist”. In conclusion, however, he points out that it will be very difficult “to go into next winter with a large number of immunologically naïve people”. Such people have no specific protection against COVID-19. Enlightenment and paying attention to others is still a duty – no matter how the political discussion about compulsory vaccination in Germany ends. This article has been updated.

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