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COVID-19 VACCINES

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.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) speaks at a G7 conference on April 7th, 2022
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) speaks at a G7 conference on April 7th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

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

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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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