The German government has shelved plans to introduce a coronavirus vaccine mandate after parliament rejected it, but says further restrictions may be unavoidable to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
MPs voted against the bill on Thursday, which if passed would have made it compulsory for over-60s to receive a vaccine, in what is seen as a humiliating defeat for Chancellor Olaf Scholz. who has long called for legislation.
Originally, the government’s plan called for a blanket warrant to cover anyone over the age of 18. When that didn’t attract enough support, he raised the age to over 50, then to over 60.
The deputies rejected it by 378 votes against 296.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who has also been a strong supporter of a mandate, arguing that the vaccination rate for the elderly in Germany is too low, said on Friday he could not rule out the need to reintroduce restrictions such as mask-wearing, especially in the fall when the virus is expected to increase.
Around 76% of Germans are fully vaccinated, below the government’s target of 80%. Of particular concern are the 2 million – around 12% – over-60s who are unvaccinated, a figure that Lauterbach has repeated repeatedly is around three to four times higher in this age group than in others. comparable countries like the UK.
A representative of German hospitals said on Friday that the daily death rate from Covid-19 – which has hovered between around 200 and 300 for weeks – was “appallingly high”, especially when it was known that most deaths were likely to have been avoidable. He said 80% of people admitted to hospital with the virus were over the age of 60 and the majority of deaths were in unvaccinated people.
Lauterbach, a virologist who was a popular choice for the health minister but who has been criticized for not projecting a positive message, said in a heated debate he thought people had lost sight of the benefits provided by the vaccine.
“If no one had been vaccinated, we would now have a perfect disaster and be stuck in total lockdown. We have to understand that,” he said. He wondered if Germans really thought it was acceptable that the country faces several hundred mostly preventable deaths every day for the foreseeable future.
Sahra Wagenknecht of the far-left Die Linke party said that until it was known “how much protection the vaccine offers against future mutations” the government was wrong to make it compulsory. “Stop trying to date people,” she said, addressing Scholz. “The coronavirus vaccine should remain a personal decision.”
The vote was seen as so crucial for the government that Scholz recalled Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock from a NATO meeting in Brussels to attend.
Scholz confirmed after the debate that he believed, unlike Lauterbach, that the debate was dead in the water.
“Parliament has spoken very clearly,” he said. “There is no legislative majority for a vaccine mandate,” he said. “It is the reality that we must now take as the basis for our actions.”
Lauterbach called the decision deeply regrettable. He has previously and repeatedly accused people who refuse a vaccination of “holding the rest of the country hostage”.
At a recent campaign rally, Scholz urged people to get vaccinated. “Where’s the solidarity, when it’s not about you infecting other people or not?” he said. “Freedom only works when it means freedom for all.”