Setting out a timeline for the introduction of the mandate, Rolf Mützenich said the first orientation debate would take place in a fortnight, with the SPD presenting key points for a bill immediately afterwards.
These points will then be used as the basis for a group motion that will be put together by parliamentarians from a range of different parties.
After that, parliament should not take longer than two months to reach a decision in the Bundestag, Mützenich said.
“We will have completed this in March,” he added.
The announcement was made ahead of Olaf Scholz’ first parliamentary questions on Wednesday in which the SPD politician faced a grilling on the latest Covid-19 measures introduced by his coalition.
Scholz has come under increasing pressure on the introduction of the general vaccine obligation, which had appeared to be sidelined in recent months.
Last year, the newly elected chancellor had argued for a general vaccination obligation to come into force in early February or early March. This could have superceded another occupation-specific vaccine mandate for healthcare and care workers that has already been approved by parliament and is set to apply from March 15th.
According to the SPD timetable, however, any form of general mandate would likely come into force a few months later than planned.
‘Only for over 50s’
Though several high-profile politicians have come out in favour of introducing a general vaccination mandate, the move remains a controversial one.
Critics have claimed that a general vaccine mandate could contravene the right to bodily autonomy that’s enshrined in Germany’s constitution, though advocates say it is a necessary in order to bring the Covid pandemic to an end.
On Tuesday, conservative health specialist Stephan Pilsinger announced that the CDU/CSU would put forward its own bill in parliament that would see a general vaccine mandate introduced – but only for the over-50s.
“Because the majority of Covid patients in intensive care are over 50, we can effectively protect the health system with compulsory vaccination of people who are over 50, while still keeping the encroachment on societal freedom as low as possible,” Pilsinger told newspapers with the Funke media group.
Age restrictions are just one way that politicians could seek to limit or modify any legislation on the mandate.
Speaking to The Local in December, FDP health expert Dr Andrew Ullmann speculated that the mandate could also be implemented regionally or for a very limited period of time to mitigate the impact on civil liberties.
However, Scholz told parliament on Wednesday that he was keen to implement the mandate “for all adults”.
“There is no decision that you make just for yourself, and that is why compulsory vaccination is also important,” he emphasised.
‘Less likely by the day’
When the bill is put to a vote in March, it will be hard to determine whether it will secure a majority because MPs will be permitted to vote against their own party line in what’s known as a vote of conscience.
So far, there is only one motion from the governing SPD, Greens and FDP coalition that rejects compulsory vaccination. This was tabled by MPs surrounding the vice president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Kubicki of the FDP, who is a longstanding opponent of Covid restrictions and compulsory jabs.
However, some voices in the medical profession have also spoken out against the move.
Speaking to RND on Wednesday, the chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, Eugen Brysch, called on Scholz to drop the idea.
“The discussion about compulsory vaccination is currently overshadowing everything,” Brysch said. “But whether it will really come is becoming less likely by the day.
“Even if the Chancellor has declared the issue of compulsory vaccination a top priority, he should also have the guts to turn back. For far too long, more urgent issues have been postponed.”
Asked to take a position on the issue, the Ethics Council recommended broadening the vaccine mandate out to “significant sections of the population”, arguing that the move could help prevent overburdening hospitals.
Introducing such a measure to protect the general population is possible under German constitutional law, the panel concluded.