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Vaccinated must be patient

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau
February 4, 2021

The German Ethics Council, which offers advice to the government, has clearly stated that people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 should not enjoy special rights. It made the right decision, says Jens Thurau.

People wait in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Berlin
The Ethics Council believes people must patiently wait for everyone to be vaccinated before restrictions are easedImage: Kai Niettfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Statements issued by the German Ethics Council — an independent body of 24 experts that offers advice to the German government — aren't usually headline news. Its opinions on society's ethical and moral principles rarely draw massive attention, particularly as the body, whose members are appointed by the president of the Bundestag, only has an advisory function. 

However, this is an unusual time. And now the council has issued a statement on an issue that has triggered a heated debate for quite some time. As more and more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, many have been asking whether it would not make sense to at least ease the restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the virus for them?

A premature debate

The council's opinion is clear on the matter. Simply put: No, it's not a good idea, and the debate is premature. Only 2.2 million people in Germany have been vaccinated to date, and the immunization campaign is taking much longer than expected. It will be months befor"ethics" vaccinee all those who want to be vaccinated in Germany can get their shot.

What also remains unclear is whether those who have been vaccinated can still spread COVID-19. There is justified hope that immunized people are less contagious, but this has yet to be proven by research.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau is a correspondent in Berlin

There's also the fear that if those who are vaccinated early get special privileges, those are still waiting in line will cry foul and be less willing to wait for their turn. This could lead to a breakdown in social cohesion.

The council pointed out that the situation would be different by mid-September if, as Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated, everybody who wanted the vaccine had had the chance to get it. In other words, if those who haven't received the vaccine have decided against it, not because they haven't yet had the chance to be inoculated. Only then would there be no argument about unfair treatment, as would currently be the case between those who have been vaccinated and those who are still waiting. The council made it clear that restaurants, bars, cinemas and other public places should only reopen when there's no chance of the virus spreading as a result. This is a wise decision.

But let's not kid ourselves: The arrival of the vaccines after months of uncertainty is a little like spotting an oasis after a long march through the desert. Who will get to drink first? There's something unpleasant about all of this. Events managers and football bosses are already clamoring to open up their concert halls and arenas, with some taking the US — where vaccinated fans will be allowed to attend the Super Bowl this coming weekend — as an example. But this would only boost their bottom line, not solidarity.

Harshest restrictions should be lifted

Thankfully, the Ethics Council has suggested that high-risk people in care homes who have been vaccinated should now be exempt from harsh restrictions, particularly those regarding visiting regulations. It's true — politicians have been embarrassingly impassive to the hardships suffered by this segment of the population, especially considering that many older people don't understand what's happening to them. Society should be ready to accommodate these people and let them be the first to benefit from eased restrictions.

For the rest of the population, it should be a matter of patiently waiting until everyone has been vaccinated before we can ease all the restrictions. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen. The Ethics Council is only one voice in the debate, even if it is an important one. The pressure to lift restrictions for those who have been vaccinated is growing steadily. Hopefully, those in power will be able to resist.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau
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