Germany has ‘too little paper’ for vaccine mandate, health insurers claim

Germany's statutory health insurance companies have said that they wouldn't be able to enforce a future vaccine mandate due to a "lack of paper".

A large folder filled with documents.
A large folder filled with papers. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Marijan Murat

Statutory health insurance companies consider proposals for a general vaccine mandate in Germany to be unworkable – partly because they’re worried about running out of paper. 

In a statement released on Monday, the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV) said there was an “acute paper shortage” in Europe, leaving little material “for the approximately 120 million letters” that would need to be sent to the insured as a result of the mandate.

German politicians are currently considering a number of competing bills on the vaccine mandate, with a vote on the matter scheduled for early April.

One of the bills, which sets out plans for an over-18s mandate, dictates that health insurers inform their customers of the new vaccination obligation by May 15th.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Will Germany introduce a vaccine mandate this year?

But the health insurance firms say this deadline “cannot be met organisationally”. According to them, the necessary European call for tenders for the printing orders alone would “go beyond the timeframe”. 

In addition, the health insurance funds say they don’t always have the current address of their customers and would be unable to guarantee that they could reach them reliably.

A Twitter account for the German paper industry was quick to respond to claims that they would be unable to fill the requested orders.

“The umbrella organisation of the GKV has stated in a statement that the implementation of a vaccination obligation would not be possible due to the lack of paper for the necessary letters,” they wrote. “We cannot understand this. The German paper industry is able to deliver.”

On Thursday, the Bundestag debated the bills and motions on a general vaccination obligation for the first time.

The five bills cover a a full spectrum of opinions, from making vaccination compulsory for all adults to saying no to all vaccine mandates, including the existing mandate for health workers.

A vote will be held on the draft laws in early April. 

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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