German parliament to vote on general vaccine mandate

After months of wrangling, German MPs are set to vote on whether to introduce a general Covid vaccine mandate on Thursday morning.

Demonstrators outside German Bundestag
Anti-vaxxers protest against a general vaccine mandate outside the Reichstag building in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

After two groups of pro-vaccination MPs joined forces on Wednesday, there is now just a single bill on the table in support of a mandate.

The draft proposes compulsory vaccination for people aged 60 or over, and was put forward by politicians from the SPD, Greens and FDP. 

Previously, two pro-mandate bills had been competing for votes: one proposing a general mandate for over-18s and one setting out a mandate for over-50s. 

Just a few days before the vote, the authors of both bills joined forces on a compromise proposal designed to win votes from the opposition CDU/CSU parties.

The watered-down plans adopt the age limit of over 60 suggested by the conservatives and also take up their idea of establishing a general vaccination register. 

It would require anyone aged 60 or older to submit proof of triple vaccination by October 1st, 2022 – the start of the colder months when Covid infection rates have previously been high.

Unvaccinated adults, meanwhile, would be required to attend a compulsory consultation with their doctor to discuss the possibility of vaccination and raise any questions they may have.

READ ALSO: German MPs join forces on new bill for over-60s vaccine mandate

Majority not certain

It remains unclear whether the bill will be able to attain a majority in parliament. At the last count, 280 politicians in the Bundestag had openly supported the motion – around 90 votes short of the number needed for an outright majority. 

On the opposition side, there are believed to be around 197 MPs, meaning around 250 votes are undecided. 

Speaking to DPA on Thursday, CDU Secretary General Mario Czaja said he did not expect the mandate bill to pass.

“So far, I don’t see a majority for any motion in parliament,” he said. 

Rather than a general vaccine mandate, the conservatives have put forward a proposal for a “vaccination precaution mechanism” designed to prepare for the emergence of a dangerous new variant in autumn. This would allow for the introduction of a vaccine mandate, but only for specific groups or professions. 

“The parliamentary group stands united behind our proposal,” Czaja said. 

The bill is also competing against two bills opposing a vaccine mandate.

One of these was put forward by FDP politician Wolfgang Kubicki and outlines plans for a more targeted vaccination campaign to convince groups that are currently underrepresented in the vaccine coverage.

A further bill put forward by the far-right AfD rejects a vaccine mandate outright. It argues that a mandate would be “unconstitutional” and posits that none of the available vaccines are completely effective against infection. 

READ ALSO: ‘Doubtful’: German government rows over general vaccine mandate

U-turn on the mandate 

During the first 18 months of the pandemic – including during the federal election campaigns last September – politicians of all stripes were quick to rule out a general vaccination.

But in view of the slow vaccination rate at the height of the Delta wave, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and the state premiers came out in favour of the measure at the end of last year. If the Bundestag decides to make vaccination compulsory, the Bundesrat (upper house) would have to approve it. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Green Party health spokesperson Janosh Dahmen take their places in the Bundestag for a vote on the vaccine mandate on Thursday, April 7th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

However, most parliamentarians in the Bundesrat – comprised of representatives of the federal states – are believed to be in favour of the move. 

As of Thursday morning, at least 63.2 million people, or 76 percent of the German population, had had at least two shots of vaccine. However, the vaccination campaign has come to a virtual standstill in recent months, with just 50,000 shots being administered on Wednesday.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said on ARD television on Wednesday evening that he believed the compromise proposal from the traffic light factions would get a majority. Should the compulsory vaccination, which he supports, fail, he said he would not think of resigning. 

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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