With Germany having recently passed the 100,000-death mark from Corona, the country’s debate over mandatory vaccination is heating up.
As Germany has just reached the 100,000 Corona death mark, the debate on mandatory vaccination is heating up in the country. As a matter of fact, Germany has had ample time to properly discuss or introduce such a ‘Pflicht’ or duty. After all, it is home to philosopher Immanuel Kant. And even before Kant’s philosophical elaborations on a duty-based ethics or ‘Pflicht,’ authority-obeying Germans tended to live up to their duties.
Surprisingly though, when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations, not even 70% of all Germans are fully vaccinated, and this after more than eleven months since the start of the government’s vaccination campaign and even though there is sufficient vaccine available for all those eligible for vaccination.
Yet Germany’s vaccination hesitancy appears unbreakable. As a consequence, Germany’s heath minister has recently warned that, if Germany is not changing its 3G rule (‘geimpft, genesen, getested’ or vaccinated, recovered or tested), it will convert into ‘geimpft, getested, gestorben’ — vaccinated, recovered or dead.
Worse, many unvaccinated Germans do not even plan to get vaccinated in the foreseeable future. Hence, the country is a long way from the urgently recommended vaccination rate of at least 85%. A vaccination rate between 85% and 90% would be necessary so that German hospitals — after 30 years of neoliberalism’s underfunding, privatization, etc. — are not overloaded in the upcoming winter season.
Many politicians, and even more so German virologists find it frustrating to see that vaccination uptake lags behind. Experts like Germany’s prime virologist Christian Drosten even argue that tougher Covid-19 measures are urgently needed to stop 100,000 more deaths. On 23rd of November 2021, Germany’s death rate was 99,817. A few days later Germany crossed the 100,000 milestone. Yet, many more will be added if Germany fails to move its game up.
Frustratingly, even after more than 1½ years into the pandemic, a considerable part of the population does not seem to understand that overloading hospitals means nothing more than the fact that, among others, even vital cancer operations will have to be postponed. In the first wave in spring 2020, this affected more than 50,000 operations in Germany. Beyond that, Germany currently faces its 4th wave while fearing a 5th wave and the real possibility of never ending waves.
With 30% unvaccinated, slightly less than a third of all Germans don’t seem to care how bad it is for others, including Germany’s overburdened medical staff. German anti-vaxxers don’t seem to mind if nurses and doctors have been overworked since months. Worse, German anti-vaxxers are indifferent to the fact that hospital workers have to place increasingly more dead bodies into blue bags. In Germany’s overloaded hospitals, there isn’t even enough staff available to carry the deceased with dignity — usually done by three to four hospital workers — into the morgue.
The fact that about one third of Germany’s population remains staunchly selfish and self-centered is assuring that the Coronavirus pandemic is becoming a pandemic of mostly the unvaccinated – and it will continue to get worse. In view of the impending health crisis which Germany will have to face in the coming weeks and months because of the many unvaccinated, many have begun to argue for mandatory vaccination.
At the beginning of Germany’s vaccination campaign, in early 2021, many German politicians have spoken out against such an order. Now, the tide seems to be changing. Initially, many politicians did so simply because there was not enough vaccine available for everyone. Beyond that, they argued that education is always better than coercion.
In the second half of 2020, several Covid-19 vaccines began to be intensively tested. Among them was BioNTech’s mRNA technology. It was particularly new. Some doubts were appropriate at that time. Today, with almost 8 billion shots administered, this is no longer the case as many billion doses of the BioNTech vaccine have now been administered worldwide with little side effects.
Apart from a slight fever, chills, and a little sting at the injection point, the risk of side effects remains extremely low — despite the hallucinations of anti-vaxxers. In fact, all of their irrational fears, assumptions, suspicions, etc. have been disproven comprehensively.
And the vaccines have been proven to work against the virus. And this remains the case despite the fact that newly emerged and even more contagious Covid-19 variants have appeared. In other words, the three vaccines Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca continue to provide highly effective protection against the Covid-19 virus. And that’s exactly what these vaccines are all about — they work.
Yet, many politicians, for their part, are to blame for the contiguous skepticism and even rejection about Covid-19 vaccination. All too many politicians have fallen victim of the neoliberal ‘free choice’ ideology when it comes to vaccination, easily forgetting that the Covid-19 virus does not give a free choice either. It will enter your body with — at times — lethal impact.
Many on Germany’s conservative side of politics and even more so on Germany’s right-wing extremists side of politics — foremost, its neonazi AfD — followed the neoliberal mantra that there would be no compulsory vaccination. They argued that mandatory vaccination would constitute a deprivation of individual liberty and that this would mean a serious interference with fundamental rights. The problem is that the Covid-19 virus does not care about such rights — it will work its way through your body until has destroyed your lung.
Yet, Germany’s Infection Protection Act provides measures for an obligatory vaccination if the life of a large part of Germany’s population can no longer be protected otherwise. This has been in place for a very long time. Until today, this remains the right thing to do in view of high risk of infection affecting Germany’s population.
In order to enforce mandatory vaccination, Germany’s police does not have to chase unwilling people down the streets. Nor does mandatory vaccination mean that two strong men are holding you while being you’re being vaccinated. It simply means a fine.
Meanwhile, an obligation to vaccinate occupational groups that have close contact with other people has now been introduced in France. Germany is lagging behind whilst time is increasingly pressing for Germans. If a sufficient vaccination quota is not reached soon, things could get really horrific in German hospitals.
Given all this, many fail to understand the baseless attitude of many of Germany’s anti-vaxxers. Many of them are clamoring for attention. Yet they are not only putting their own health at risk, but also the health of others. An argument against mandatory vaccination might be that the unvaccinated have a right to refuse vaccination. True, but they do not have a right to endanger others. Despite such arguments, mandatory vaccination remains hotly debated across Germany’s political spectrum.
The greatest support for mandatory vaccination is found among German trade union members. A whopping 73% of them show support. Slightly less support is found among social-democratic SPD supporters (71%). Surprisingly, even among the supporters of Germany’s neoliberal FDP, a majority of 53% are in favor of mandatory vaccination.
Support is slightly less when comes from Germany’s environmentalist Greens (56%). In other words, millions of trade union members and a clear majority of supporters of Germany’s main political parties approve mandatory vaccination. By contrast, the measure is rejected by Germany’s crypto Neo-Nazis: AfD supporters and voters.
Yet, despite these numbers, there are many tensions within German society on the subject of mandatory vaccination. Some fear that these pressures might become real divisions in the case of a vaccination mandate. This is despite the fact that Germany’s hard core anti-vaxxers only amount to around 8% to 12% — not more.
On the other hand, mandatory vaccination remains popular among the vast majority of Germany’s population. It continues to be even more popular than an obligation to vaccinate only for certain occupational groups. In the meantime, many have started to consider mandatory vaccination well beyond certain professional groups such as, for example, nurses. Such a move appears to be inevitable. It remains important not just to protect particularly vulnerable people.
The head of Germany’s powerful Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung (medical association), Andreas Gassen, recently said there seems to be a lack of understanding of the forces working in unvaccinated German homes. However, Gassen also pointed out that there is a lack of staff in nursing and that there remains the potential risk that some employees might not come back to work if they are required to be vaccinated.
Even if Germany’s federal government has rejected the Kant-like moral duty for mandatory vaccination, the debate is set to continue. An obligation to vaccinate remains a fundamental legal intervention, in particular given Germany’s right to physical integrity. This is a fundamental right.
Hence, mandatory vaccination has to be shown to be beneficial to one’s own health. This has to be balanced against the state’s obligation to make sure that the right to physical integrity is safeguarded, i.e. the potential death of thousands of Germans from Corona is prevented.
Yet, the intensity of the intervention depends on the nature and extent of the risks and its potential side effects. If the obligation to vaccinate applies also to children, parents might remain free to decide on the implementation of medical measures on their children. Yet, even parental rights such as these can be restricted, e.g. in the case of a pandemic. Just as with adults, non-compliance will lead to a fine.
However, a legal basis for mandatory Covid-19 vaccination does not exist yet. Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, would have to specifically regulate mandatory vaccination against Corona.
According to the principle of proportionality, this would only be permissible if a sufficient number of people do not get vaccinated on their own initiative and milder means are not sufficient to persuade enough people to get vaccinated. It is still a bit of an open question whether such a prerequisite actually exists. By the end of November 2021, Germany was edging towards this.
However, even if state intervention should become necessary, Germany’s legislators do not have to standardize mandatory vaccination right away. Germany’s parliament is free to assess whether other means can lead to the same success. However, in the case of mandatory vaccination, it must be plausible to everyone that Germany’s vaccination rate cannot be increased to a sufficient level by voluntary means.
Even if mandatory vaccination will become necessary, Germany’s state and health authorities need to inform the people in what German regulators call a target-group-specific manner about the importance of preventive mandatory vaccination. German health authorities can, for example, add value to this by giving proper information in a non-emotionalizing way to non-vaccinated Germans.
Yet, a governmental strategy could also use shocking images similar to those used on cigarette packs and those used on Germany’s infamous Autobahn to drive slowly. These images would be intended to warn of the consequences of an ever increasing spread of the Covid-19 disease. It needs to be clear that the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic can only be won by mandatory vaccination.
Incentives are a rather classic alternative to mandatory vaccination, enticing people to get vaccinated. At the same time, the awarding of financial premiums for vaccination is often regarded critically, particularly from a legal policy point of view. In addition, it might put water on the mills of anti-vaxxers since it reinforces the impression that there are not enough good reasons for vaccination. Still, sufficient protection might be achieved on the backs of financially weaker people, who will be more motivated by monetary payments.
Yet, non-financial incentives are also conceivable. Additionally, restrictive measures such as lockdowns for the unvaccinated to protect the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic might make people who are almost ready for vaccination more comfortable to get vaccinated. Now, they have a reason and can justify their decision to get vaccinated.
Many argue that there still is the category of the unvaccinated who – most urgently — must be prevented from infecting others. This includes people who need to visit certain places like work, public transport, entertainment venues, public libraries, etc. These are people who might only need a little push to get vaccinated, known as vaccination hesitancy. Many of them can be nudged to get vaccinated.
A general obligation to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is a most serious issue. Yet, it is by no means the only instrument. Quite often, mandatory vaccination is only considered as an ultima ratioregis — a final resort to get people vaccinated. In any case, the conditions under which a compulsory vaccination will have to be decided in Germany have not yet been determined. Yet, Germany’s is increasingly moving towards mandatory vaccination.
Photo: The sign reads: “Vaccination center – entrance” (source: Pixabay)
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Thomas Klikauer teaches MBA students at the Sydney Graduate School of Management at Western Sydney University in Australia. He was born in southern Germany about half way between Castle Frankenstein to the East, the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg (the inventor of the printing press) to the West, and the garage where Carl Benz built the first motor-car even though Benz’s wife, Bertha, undertook the world’s first ever car ride.
Surrounded by cars, Thomas Klikauer undertook an engineering degree while working for a local car supplier. He joined Germany’s mighty metal workers trade union, the IGM, became a union representative and led a strike. Supported by a trade union scholarship, he graduated from Boston University (USA) and Bremen University (Germany) and completed a PhD at Warwick (UK).
Thomas Klikauer has more than 600 publications which include ten books. He writes on Managerialism, the sociology of work and right-wing extremism with a recent book on Germany’s right-wing populist party, the AfD. Thomas Klikauer lives in the beachside suburb of Coogee, a “must see” destination in Sydney, Australia.