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COVID-19 VACCINES

German health insurance providers refuse to enforce future vaccine mandate

In a blow to the governing traffic-light coalition, German health insurance firms have claimed they would not be responsible for helping to enforce a general vaccine mandate.

Vaccination booklet
A yellow vaccination booklet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ABDA Bundesvgg. Dt. Apothekerverbände | ABDA

Legislation put forward by a group of MPs from the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) envision the support of the health insurance companies in monitoring a potential Covid general vaccine mandate. 

But the umbrella organisation of the statutory health insurance firms (GSV) has rejected the idea, claiming that implementing the mandate wouldn’t be within their remit. 

A GKV spokesperson told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe on Thursday that the insurance providers would be willing to fulfil their mandate to inform and advise insured customers, but they could not take it further.

“The enforcement and control of a possible legal vaccination obligation, on the other hand, would be the task of the state,” they said.

What are the proposals?

GKV’s comments will come as a blow to the group of the ‘traffic light’ coalition MPs who have placed the insurance firms at the centre of their plans.

Under their proposals, these public insurance companies would record the vaccination status of their customers in a portal and then pass on details of unvaccinated people to the local health authorities. 

The health authorities would then offer unvaccinated people an appointment and issue fines if the offer were not taken up within four weeks.

SPD parliamentary group vice-chairman Dirk Wiese, who has helped to put together the proposed legislation, told the Funke Media Group he remained committed to the plan. 

“We want to go via the health insurance funds,” he said. “From our point of view, this makes sense, is legally permissible and also feasible.”

The parliamentary group wants to publish the draft law “before next week”, Wiese added. 

If the bill is voted through in parliament in late March, it could come into force by October 1st after six months of reviews and consultations. 

All over-18s without a medical exemption would then be required to have at least three Covid jabs with a recognised EU vaccine, such as Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

The legislation would be due to expire in late 2023. 

READ ALSO: German MPs set out plans for over-18s vaccine mandate

Higher health insurance costs?

A key point paper presented by MPs last week proposes that fines be placed on people who refuse to get vaccinated, though there are currently no plans for higher health insurance premiums for unvaccinated people in the bills put forward in parliament.

In December last, Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) had floated proposals for financial penalties added to health insurance costs – and idea that has been supported by Rainer Schlegel, the president of the Federal Social Court. 

According to Schlegel, unvaccinated Covid patients should contribute to the costs of in-patient treatment. The proportion of the costs borne by the patients should be linked to income and assets, he argued. 

The health insurance providers reject this proposal as well.

Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek

Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) speaks at a cabinet meeting in January. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tobias Hase

Major health insurance AOK, which insures around 27 million people, said penalties through insurance would be misguided. 

“We reject this completely,” said Carola Reimann, head of the board of the AOK national association. “We must not let a few vaccination opponents destroy the fact that we insure everyone in solidarity under the same conditions.”

The former health minister of Lower Saxony argued that higher insurance costs would risk undermining the entire state healthcare system. 

“If you were to introduce higher premiums for the unvaccinated, you would also have to have a different tariff for diabetics, smokers and high-risk athletes,” she said. “Then we would be in a private health insurance system.”

READ ALSO: Germany divided over Covid vaccine mandate

Member comments

  1. Never thought I would see the day that insurance companies would have a stronger moral compass than the government.

  2. Finally, people who have sense within positions of authority are speaking out. Encouraged, and excited to see more.

  3. Surprised me to.
    The question still arises: what are these idiots with their crazy ideas doing?
    Reminder: Is not a Government with Morals an oxymoron?

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Reader question: Can under-5s get vaccinated against Covid in Germany?

Vaccines for children aged six months to five-years-old are currently being rolled out in the United States. But can very young children also get a Covid jab in Germany?

Reader question: Can under-5s get vaccinated against Covid in Germany?

At the moment, only children aged five and above can get vaccinated against Covid-19 in Germany.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of a reduced dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine for children between the ages of five and 12, and this age group are able to get vaccinated by doctors at practices or at dedicated vaccine centres.

Back in May, Germany’s Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) issued a general Covid jab recommendation for 5-12 year olds. Previously, they had only recommended the shots to children with pre-existing conditions or vulnerable contacts.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for all children over five

Of course, some parents are keen to get their younger children vaccinated as well – and news from the US, where both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech has recently been approved for children under five, has given them hope that the same will happen in Germany.

So what exactly is going on?

Well, at the moment, there does seem to be some movement in that direction, but things are still up in the air. 

Back in April, Moderna announced that it had submitted a request to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for a variation to the conditional marketing authorisation.

In plain English, this means they want permission to roll out a 25mg dose of their vaccine (as part of a two-dose series) for children aged six months to five years. This is the same dosage that is being used to vaccinate toddlers and babies in the US. 

In response to a question from The Local, Pfizer/BioNTech said it was also planning to file for authorisation for the under-fives vaccine from the EMA in early July. 

Depending on the EMA’s decision, this could pave the way for very young children to get the Covid jab in Germany.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the authorities will be recommending that all parents rush out and vaccinate their young’uns. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group back in March, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) struck a cautious tone when talking about vaccines for under fives.

“In the studies, the vaccines have not shown the immunisation effect in young children that we had hoped for. But it is precisely in this age group that the effect must be particularly clearly proven,” he said.

“It is therefore unclear at the moment whether there will be a vaccination recommendation for under-fives in Germany.”

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

For its part, the EMA said it was in talks with Pfizer ahead of the submission of its application for approval.

“To date, no application for an extension of indication for the use of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) in children under five has been submitted to EMA,” a spokesperson for the EMA told The Local.

“However, EMA is in contact with the company about the possible submission of data and we will communicate on our website should we receive a request for an extension of indication.”

At the time of writing, the German Health Ministry and Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had not responded to a request for comment. 

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