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Germany approves COVID vaccine mandate for medical staff

December 10, 2021

In a first for Germany, medical workers in hospitals and nursing homes will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Newly approved rules have also permitted dentists and veterinarians to administer jabs.

A COVID patient is wheeled into an intensive care unit
It's the first time that Germany has implemented a vaccine mandate in the COVID pandemic — albeit limiting it to medical workersImage: UKSH/dpa/picture alliance

Lawmakers in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, voted on Friday in favor of updating Germany's infection protection law in a bid to curb the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.

Among the measures is Germany's first coronavirus vaccine mandate — currently limited to health workers.

A few hours later, the new measures were given the green light from the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's newly inaugurated government has made combating the pandemic a priority, as concerns over a new spike in cases grow as the Christmas holidays draw closer.

What is the partial vaccine mandate?

The changes include measures aimed at getting people vaccinated and speeding up the booster shot campaign — and are initially valid until March 15, 2022.

Medical workers in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors' offices, facilities for people with disabilities, and other health facilities will now be asked to show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.

Only health workers who can provide a medical reason for not getting the jab will be exempt from the mandate.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who is an epidemiologist, said it was unacceptable that some people at hospitals and care homes are still not vaccinated.

"This vaccine mandate is necessary because it's completely unacceptable that, after two years of the pandemic, people who have entrusted their care to us are dying unnecessarily in institutions because unvaccinated people work there,'' he said. "We cannot accept this."

Andrew Ullmann, an MP with the Free Democrats (FDP) who are part of the new governing coalition, emphasized that while personal freedom is paramount, "freedom always comes with responsibility."

"We have to be aware that we have a responsibility that comes with the freedom and that responsibility is for other people to be sure that they are safe," Ullmann, who is a physician, told DW.  "This means that our hospitals are not overwhelmed by the cases of COVID-19."

German lawmakers are set to debate another, likely more contentious bill in the coming weeks on a vaccine mandate that would apply to everyone.

What are the other changes?

The new measures also expand who is allowed to vaccinate people against COVID — expanding the group to include dentists, veterinarians, and pharmacists.

The changes to the infection protection law also make it legally possible once again to close bars, clubs, restaurants, and theaters as well as cultural and sporting events.

COVID-19 puts German hospitals at their limit

Hospitals will also receive more financial assistance to help offset the costs of having to cancel surgeries and other procedures due to an influx of COVID-19 patients.

What is the status of Germany's vaccine campaign? 

Just over 69% of people in Germany are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — short of former Chancellor Angela Merkel's aim of a minimum 75% vaccination rate, and considerably lower than some other European Union countries.

In recent weeks, Germany has logged record-high numbers of new cases. Numerous cases of the omicron variant have also been recorded.

While new infections have started to drop over the past seven days, hospitals have warned that while the case numbers are falling, the country's hospitalizations will likely peak over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The number of unvaccinated people has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.

rs/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)