Germany debates fines for vaccination no-shows

Government dismisses proposal as no-show rate at vaccination centres jumps to 10%

A doctor vaccinates an employee with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at a vaccination centre in Leverkusen, western Germany. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

A doctor vaccinates an employee with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at a vaccination centre in Leverkusen, western Germany. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

 

Germany has rejected calls to impose fines on people who fail to appear for their scheduled Covid-19 vaccination.

As German infection rates begin to rise again for the first time in weeks, the head of Germany’s Red Cross (DRK) suggested a €25-30 fine to deter no-shows at vaccination centres.

“We need the free slots,” said Mario Czaja, saying no-shows were hampering the national vaccine rollout. “We’re still not out of the woods and we can’t afford to be negligent.”

At the start of the year, Mr Czaja said, the average no-show rate at DRK-run centres was 0.5 per cent. In the last months that rate has jumped to 10 per cent as people take advantage of a vaccination from their local doctor.

Not cancelling their vaccination centre appointment – particularly for their second shot – was hampering the efficacy of the DRK centre rollout, designed to administer 15,000 jabs daily in Berlin alone.

No vaccine was being destroyed as a result of no-shows, Mr Czaja told German national radio, but he saw no reason not to follow a practice of specialist medical practices and bill their no-show patients.

His proposal was backed by Karl Lauterbach, the influential health spokesman for Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD). “People who let their vaccination appointment lapse without deregistering themselves are doing something that damages the vaccination programme,” he said.

Many doctors have responded positively to the proposal, with one doctor in Brandenburg tweeting: “For the first time we have a shortage of people, not vaccines.”

Dismissed as unworkable

But the proposal has been dismissed as unworkable by the government. On Monday, chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said there were “no plans for fines”. A health ministry spokesman said the aim was to “motivate citizens to get vaccinated, we don’t want to scare them off, threatening punishment”.

After a slow start, Germany has now vaccinated some 56.5 per cent of its population with at least one jab, while 39 per cent of people have been fully vaccinated. While vaccinations were running in and around a million daily in recent weeks, the seven-day daily average slumped last week by nearly a fifth. Some are concerned that no-shows could slow the latest vaccine push this week, when an additional 7.65 million vaccine doses arrive for distribution.

Given its surplus of vaccines, and growing no-shows, Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder has proposed vaccinating schoolchildren sooner than planned. “We will start this week in Bavaria,” he said. “Vaccinating schoolchildren is the most effective tool against the Delta variant”.

In a bid to tackle the rising numbers of Delta cases, Germany altered its vaccination recommendations on Friday. In a change effective immediately, anyone with a first AstraZeneca shot can receive a second jab with an mRNA vaccine.

Federal health minister Jens Spahn said Germany now had enough vaccines for all, including booster shots to those who wanted them in the autumn.