German Ethics Council recommends extending vaccine mandates

Until now, Germany's Ethics Council had always rejected a general vaccination requirement. But in light of changing evidence, they have endorsed broadening the obligation to the wider population.

Alena Buyx, Chair of the German Ethics Council, takes part in a press conference on
Alena Buyx, Chair of the German Ethics Council, takes part in a press conference on "Special regulations for vaccinated people?“ In February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

In a recommendation published on Wednesday, the German Ethics Council has come out in favour of extending the recently adopted compulsory vaccination for staff in healthcare institutions to “significant sections of the population”.

A total of 20 of the council’s 24 members voted in favour of the recommendation, while four voted against it.

The statement marks a turnaround for the panel which advises the federal government on ethical, societal, scientific, medical and legal issues. Until now, the Council had always rejected a general vaccination requirement.

Why now?

The Ethics Council had been asked by the federal and state governments for an assessment on the issue of mandatory jabs, because the Bundestag is likely to have a vote on a general vaccination requirement at the beginning of next year. 

An initial, limited Covid vaccination obligation was already decided on in the middle of December, meaning that employees in facilities with vulnerable people, such as clinics and nursing homes, will be required to submit proof of vaccination or recovery by March 15, 2022.

READ ALSO: German MPs pass jab requirement for health workers

The Council has reconsidered its standpoint on a more general vaccine mandate, in view of the changing evidence base.

They considered factors such as the fact that the Delta variant had required higher vaccination rates than expected at the beginning of 2021 and that these vaccination rates were “far from being achieved”. 

It is also unclear whether an even higher vaccination rate may be required in light of the new Omicron variant.

Another change is that it is now clear that protection against infection diminishes over time and that even vaccinated people can pick up and transmit infections. The high number of infections threatens to overburden the healthcare system, experts warn.

READ ALSO: Q&A: ‘I was against vaccine mandates in Germany – until hospitals became overwhelmed’

Would compulsory vaccinations be legal? 

The Ethics Council also looked at the question of whether making vaccinations a legal requirement would be compatible with the German constitution.

They said that introducing such “measures to protect other people or the general public are possible in principle under constitutional law”.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Could Germany legally introduce compulsory vaccination?

The Council included a series of measures that would be required to allow for a vaccine mandate in its recommendation.

For example, a nationwide infrastructure with easily available vaccinations would have to  be on offer and, as far as possible, people should be able to choose which vaccine they take. The implementation of compulsory vaccination using physical force (“forced vaccination”) must be ruled out.

German politicians have previously stated that under possible vaccine mandates, people would be fined if they refused them and never forced to take a vaccine.

The experts also propose the establishment of a data-secure national vaccination register and direct invitations for vaccination. 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”