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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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.