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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.