Merkel rejects calls for compulsory vaccination of key workers

Germany in phase ‘where we are still promoting vaccines voluntarily’, chancellor says

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, arrives for a news conference at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, arrives for a news conference at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin on Tuesday. Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has dismissed calls for compulsory vaccinations among key workers, and urged citizens to get their jabs against Covid-19 jabs – and lobby friends and family to do the same.

Dr Merkel said Germany was determined to avoid a fourth wave but, as cases involving the Delta virus variant rise, it would not follow France and Greece and require healthcare and other workers to be vaccinated.

“The more people are vaccinated, the more free we will be again, the more freely we will be able to live again,” she said. “We are in the phase where we are still promoting vaccines voluntarily, and my request to you all is to make the case for the vaccine, everywhere there are people who know and trust each other.”

She was speaking after visiting the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s infectious diseases body which has co-ordinated the pandemic response. It says some 43 per cent of German residents have been fully vaccinated while just under 60 per cent have received one shot. RKI officials say they will need a vaccination quota of at least 85-90 per cent to protect the population through so-called herd immunity.

“We are seeing only a very small section of the populace where . . . they won’t let themselves be vaccinated,” said Dr Lothar Wieler, RKI president, placing their number at under 10 per cent.

Germany’s federal health minister Jens Spahn said that, unlike the early days of the vaccination programme, there were no vaccine supply problems any more and thus “no excuses”.

Social pressure

“Whoever doesn’t let themselves be vaccinated today cannot complain tomorrow that he isn’t invited to a party,” said Mr Spahn, predicting growing social pressure on the unvaccinated.

He is calling on German sports and culture clubs to boost the vaccination drive by arranging vaccination evenings with a local doctor. From Friday, drive-in vaccinations will be available at a Berlin Ikea furniture store.

With an eye on the new school term, however, some advisers to the government are demanding greater efforts to protect schoolchildren, who have yet to be vaccinated.

“We need mandatory vaccination for personnel in schools and nurseries,” said Prof Wolfram Henn, a geneticist and member of the German Ethics Council. “Anyone who chooses of their own free will to work with vulnerable people takes on a special professional responsibility.”

Recent weeks have seen Germany’s seven-day incidence rate notch upward but, at 6.5 cases per 100,000 people over seven days, it is a long way from the rates above 170 seen in the springtime third wave.

Anticipating a fourth wave, Germany has indicated a new approach to risk calculation: away from a singular focus on incidence rates and a greater weighting for intensive-care bed-occupancy rates.

An internal RKI paper suggests the new approach is sensible as vaccination rates increase and serious cases decrease, freeing up medical capacity for “a stronger focus on the consequences of infection”.

“Of course vaccinations have changed the total picture,” said Steffen Seibert, government spokesman, “but we are still not adequately armed for a situation where numbers begin to rise again sharply.”