Merkel airs support for compulsory Covid jabs ahead of vote

Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her support for mandatory Covid jabs as federal and state leaders agree to put the move to a vote in parliament.

Merkel and state leaders
Angela Merkel leaves a press conference alongside Olaf Scholz (SPD) and the state leaders. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP-Pool | John Macdougall

It comes as state and federal leaders unite on a series of fresh measures to tame the Covid fourth wave over winter.

These include blanket ‘2G’ in culture, gastronomy and non-essential shops, new provisions to allow for regional lockdowns and strict contact restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Ministers have also agreed to hold a vote on whether Germany should bring in a vaccine mandate early next year.

READ ALSO: Germany to impose sweeping new Covid curbs on the unvaccinated

This would ensure that every person eligible to get a jab would be legally obliged to get their initial doses and regular boosters. 

When asked whether she was in favour of such a move, Merkel said she had hoped that more people would get their shots willingly, but “at this point” in the pandemic, she supported it. 

“Covid vaccination had been advertised on all channels, but there are still gaps in coverage, and on a regional level the health system is overloaded,” she said. Pointing to the particularly aggressive Delta variant, she explained that it hadn’t been possible to achieve herd immunity with such a low vaccination rate.

“Given the situation, it’s necessary to make vaccination compulsory,” she added.

As of Thursday, 68.7 percent of the population was fully jabbed in Germany. Vaccination among Germans and their German-speaking neighbours has tended to lag behind other countries in western Europe. 

READ ALSO: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

Mandatory jabs ‘by February 2022’

Following the meeting of the state and federal government leaders on Thursday, ministers will ask the Ethics Council for a recommendation on the subject by the end of the year.

Parliament will then hold a vote on the matter with a view to introducing the news measure in February 2022. 

According to incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), due to the sensitive nature of the issue, MPs will be allowed to vote with their conscience, rather than following party lines, when mandatory jabs are put to a vote. 

Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz
Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz leave a press conference following a meeting of state and federal leaders on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP-Pool | John Macdougall

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday, the outgoing Chancellor said that if she were still in the Bundestag, she would vote in favour of the plans.

“I would cast my vote in favour of compulsory vaccination at this point,” she said.

Merkel is due to hand over to her successor Scholz on December 8th.

She has stayed on in a caretaker capacity since the federal elections on September 26th, 2021, but no longer sits in the Bundestag as an MP. 

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What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

With Covid cases rising, many people in Germany are wondering if they should get a fourth Covid jab - or second booster. Here's what you should keep in mind.

What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

German states have started giving out new Covid vaccines that are specially adapted to the Omicron variant.

Though the Omicron variant is believed to cause milder courses of illness than earlier variants like Delta, it’s known for being highly transmissible and is often able to evade the body’s immune responses. 

In September, three Omicron vaccines received EU-wide approval: two vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna adapted to the BA.1 sub-variant, and another Omicron booster from BioNTech to protect against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. 

Who should get the fourth Covid shot (second booster)?

People who belong to ‘at risk’ groups should think about getting a booster shot this autumn.

The official recommendation from the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) stipulates that people over the age of 60 should get a further booster vaccination.

In addition, people over the age of 12 who have an underlying condition that can lead to severe illness with Covid-19 should also get a shot.

Experts also recommend that residents and staff in nursing homes or long-term care facilities receive a fourth jab.

READ ALSO: When – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

In STIKO’s latest guidance dated September 20th, experts also say that it may be appropriate for people at particular risk, for instance the very elderly or people with immunodeficiency, to get another shot (a fifth jab) after the fourth vaccination, although that would depend on several factors and a medical consultation. 

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.

A Covid test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Should people under the age of 60 get a fourth jab?

If people don’t fall into a risk group and are under the age of 60, they can still receive a fourth vaccination, although it’s not officially recommended. You should have a consultation with your GP – or a doctor carrying out Covid vaccinations – if you are interested in getting the fourth jab. 

How do vaccination centres handle people under 60 who want to get another Covid shot?

There have been occasional reports in Germany that younger people who don’t belong to a risk group have been turned away from vaccination centres because they don’t qualify for a booster jab. 

However, The Local has anecdotally heard that people have been able to get a jab from a vaccination station or centre, regardless of their health condition or age.

A spokesperson at the health department of the city Munich told broadcaster BR24 that carrying out a fourth vaccination is decided on a case-by-case basis and is a decision taken by the medical expert giving out the jab “in each case”.

Where is the fourth vaccination available? 

There are still lots of walk-in vaccination centres across the country, while many doctors and pharmacies also carry out jabs. You should search online or contact your GP for more information. 

Many towns and cities are reporting a significant increase in demand since the new vaccines adapted for Omicron variants became available.

READ ALSO: Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

How many people in Germany have been vaccinated?

According to official figures, 76.3 percent of the German population has received two Covid jabs. Just over 62 percent have also received a booster jab, and 9.9 percent have been given a second booster vaccination.

Around 18.4 million people (22.2 percent) in Germany are not vaccinated. For four million of these people aged 0 to four years (4.8 percent), no licensed vaccine is available.

Does getting the flu vaccination help against Covid?

Coronaviruses and the flu are different viruses, so the flu jab cannot protect against Covid-19. However, those who have a weaker immune system can strengthen their body in fighting a virus by getting a flu shot, according to experts. The immune system can then better use resources it saves against a possible Covid infection.

The fourth Covid jab and the flu shot can be administered to patients at the same time, according to the STIKO – although they don’t have to be.

If this is the case, the injections are given in different arms. However, it could be the case that patients have a stronger reaction if both jabs are carried out at the same time, so keep that in mind. 

READ ALSO: Can anyone in Germany get a second Covid booster jab?