German court refuses to delay vaccine mandate for health workers

According to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, the partial vaccine mandate for health and care workers can go ahead as planned in March, pending a decision on whether it contradicts German law.

Constitutional court
Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

In a decision published on Friday morning, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled out a suspension of the upcoming vaccine mandate. 

They indicated that no firm decision had been made on the many constitutional complaints against the partial vaccination requirement, which will be examined in the coming weeks. 

The complaints were mainly filed by unvaccinated employees and by facility managers who want to continue employing unvaccinated staff.

In the summary proceedings, the judges weighed up the consequences of delaying the vaccine mandate or allowing it it to come into force as planned on March 15th.

They examined what would have the worse consequences: if they allowed the vaccine mandate to be put in place and later found it to be unconstitutional, or if they temporarily suspended the mandate and it later turned out to be constitutional. 

This balancing worked out to the plaintiffs’ disadvantage.

“The very low probability of serious consequences of vaccination is contrasted with the significantly higher probability of damage to life and limb of vulnerable people,” the court announced.

“The vaccine mandate does not, at the time of this decision, meet with any far-reaching constitutional objections.”

However, the judges criticised the fact that the law did not contain concrete details on the proof of vaccination or recovery that would be required.

In the legislation passed by parliament, there is only a passing reference to current regulations as well as the websites of the Paul Ehrlich Institute and the Robert Koch Institute.

READ ALSO: German authorities signal reprieve for unvaccinated health workers

What is the institutional vaccine mandate? 

The so-called ‘institutional’ vaccination obligation is intended to protect old and vulnerable people – who have a particularly high risk of becoming very seriously ill or dying with it – from a Covid infection. 

It applies to employees in nursing homes and clinics, but also, for example, in doctors’ surgeries and outpatient services, midwives, physiotherapists and masseurs.

Under the terms of the mandate, this group of employees has until March 15th 2022 to prove that they are fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid-19. New employees will need this evidence from March 16th onwards by default. There is an exception for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

If the proof is missing, local health authorities will be required to investigate the case and can ultimately terminate the employment of staff.

This has led opposition MPs to raise concerns that key parts of health and care infrastructure could find themselves understaffed. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s conservatives call for suspension of health worker vaccine mandate

When the legislation for compulsory jabs passed in the Bundestag and Bundesrat in mid-December, it triggered a wave of lawsuits in Karlsruhe.

By February 3rd, 74 constitutional complaints had already been received from around 300 plaintiffs, many of them requiring an urgent response. 

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Germany’s Scholz rules out second attempt at vaccine mandate

After an attempt to introduce an over-60s vaccine mandate was rejected in parliament, German chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has said his government will not bring the issue to a vote again.

Germany's Scholz rules out second attempt at vaccine mandate

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has rejected the idea of a second attempt to introduce mandatory Covid vaccinations.

“There is no legislative majority in the Bundestag for compulsory vaccination,” he said on Thursday evening after consultations with the leaders of the federal states in Berlin.

Expressing his regret at the lack of support for the move, he said this reality would have to be the “starting point” for any future vaccination drives. 

“I am, of course, disappointed that there was no majority today, I don’t want to hide that at all,” said Scholz. “I am still convinced that it would be right to have compulsory vaccination in Germany. With the Bundestag decision, however, a very clear statement by the legislator had now been made.”

Despite the fact that Covid-19 vaccines have been available in Germany for more than a year, around 24 percent of the population still have no vaccine protection whatsoever.

Of these, around 4-5 percent are too young to get the Covid vaccine, but around 20 percent are either against the idea or still on the fence. 

“We will do everything we can to convince even more citizens of this country to get vaccinated,” Scholz told reporters. “This will require our creativity.”

READ ALSO: Scholz gets stinging defeat in parliament with Covid jab vote

On Thursday, a bill for compulsory vaccination for everyone over the age of 60 was voted down in the Bundestag, dealing a painful blow to its supporters in the traffic-light coalition. 

The bill had been promoted primarily by SPD and Green MPs, including Scholz himself and Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD). A motion from the opposition CDU/CSU parties to introduce a vaccine register and potential target vaccine mandates was also rejected by the house. 

‘Bitter defeat’

Scholz is not alone in ruling out the possibility of reviving the vaccine mandate issue. 

Speaking to Tagesschau in Berlin, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the failure of the bill had been a “bitter defeat” that made it unlikely that any future bill on the subject would gain enough support to succeed.

“It’s a clear result that has to be lived with,” he said. “I’m sceptical about whether we can still achieve anything through additional talks.”

In a democracy, he said, this had to be respected.

But he explained that the failure of compulsory vaccination is bad news for vulnerable patients, for those who work to treat and care for Covid patients, and for all those who have to live with restrictions. A new wave of infections is likely by autumn at the latest, Lauterbach said.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister to target undecided in new Covid jab campaign