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Mandatory vaccinations won't help now

Joscha Weber Bonn 9577
Joscha Weber
November 28, 2021

Even if mandatory vaccinations are deemed legal and the unvaccinated show up for their shots, requiring everyone to get vaccinated won't solve Germany's COVID crisis. We need another lockdown, writes DW's Joscha Weber.

Police walk past an empty cafe
It's going to take a lockdown, not mandatory vaccination, to get COVID under control, says Joscha WeberImage: Robert Michael/dpa/picture alliance

When it comes to organizing their society, Germans generally tend to look for consensus. The political system is based on debate, which eventually allows the country to reach a compromise that most people can agree to.

There have been few exceptions to this rule, though some issues have split the country. Dealing with the more than a million refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 was one such issue. Today, the question of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations has turned into another emotional debate dividing the country.

Some people have come out in favor of requiring jabs , while others are strictly against it. Several recent polls show a more or less clear majority of people supporting mandatory vaccinations: Der Spiegel newsmagazine reported 72%, YouGov found 69% and the ARD public broadcaster said 57% of people in Germany support mandatory vaccinations. A survey by the tabloid Bild newspaper, however, said 70% are against the measure.

But regardless of which set of statistics is correct, now is absolutely the wrong time for a debate on mandatory vaccinations.

Forced vaccinations won't help us now

Coronavirus infections are exploding in Germany, with cases among children reaching dizzying heights. Some hospitals are already overstretched and confronting the potential necessity of triaging patients. Over 100,000 people in Germany have already died because of COVID-19 and Christian Drosten, one of the country's top virologists, has warned that, conservatively speaking, there will be 100,000 more deaths.

DW editor Joscha Weber
Joscha Weber is head of DW's fact checking division

Germany, a country that so far had got off relatively lightly during this pandemic, is standing at a coronavirus abyss. Could mandatory vaccinations prevent the worst? Unfortunately, the answer is no. 

Look at it in concrete terms: even if mandatory vaccinations were introduced next week — which with the ongoing transition from old to new German government is highly unlikely — and under even ideal circumstances, it would be months until the unvaccinated get appointments for their first and second shot, and even longer before they're fully protected. And that's only if the people who don't want the shots decide to show up for the vaccinations in the first place, which is also unlikely. Since several catastrophic management decisions have limited Germany's vaccine supply for booster shots — which would still need to be given alongside the mandatory shots — additional delays would be likely, to put it mildly.

Disinformation can't be allowed to win

Even if legislation mandating vaccinations were able to stand up to the constitutional challenges that would certainly be filed, it would come with several negative side effects.

Those opposed to the vaccines would feel ostracized. While some may say that's their own fault, many of the people who now feel excluded from society and stigmatized are susceptible to messages promising an escape — and populists and conspiracy theorists know how to take advantage of that.

If all the promises from politicians that vaccinations would always remain voluntary suddenly evaporate into thin air, those populists and peddlers of conspiracy theories would win. They will see truth in the fictions of a conspiracy among politicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the media to force vaccinations on everyone. It would result in a not-so-small minority of people turning their backs on government and democracy.

Flood relief in Germany: Unwelcome helpers

There's also another reason to oppose mandatory vaccinations: calculations show that the effect would be small when compared with other measures. A team of mathematicians at the Mittweida University of Applied Sciences in Saxony created a model that took into account several factors, including vaccine efficacy and the infectiousness of COVID variants, to determine which measures work best at stopping the spread of the virus. The result showed that even if mandatory vaccinations began on Monday, there would be considerably more than 2 million acute coronavirus infections in Germany.

An unpopular truth: 'Only another lockdown will help'

Debate over mandatory vaccinations is a distraction from the real question: How long until the next lockdown? Only severely limiting contact with others can stop the current rapid spread of the virus. It's an unpopular truth that no one wants to hear because of how much it impacts all aspects of life. But there's no way around it.

There's no way around it because we're talking about people's lives. If we continue under the current COVID regulations, Germany can expect to see 300,000 more deaths — 300,000. It's an unbelievable number.

Yes, it's only an estimate determined with a differential equation model by Kristan Schneider of the Mittweida University, but it's one that makes realistic assumptions. Mandatory vaccinations alone, his calculations show, would only help over the medium term and even that comes with conditions. More than 200,000 people could still end up dying.

Schneider's conclusion: "Contact restrictions are the most effective measure that we have. Only another lockdown will help now."

That's why Germany needs to pull the emergency break and put a lockdown in place. Every person's life is precious. That should be something that everyone in Germany can agree on.

This commentary has been translated from German

Joscha Weber Bonn 9577
Joscha Weber Editor and fact-checker focusing on separating facts from fiction and uncovering disinformation.@joschaweber