Debate about compulsory vaccination: is Omikron changing the rules of the game?

Status: 01/17/2022 09:24 am

The highly contagious omicron variant causes the number of corona cases to skyrocket, but the course of the disease is predominantly mild. This has consequences – also for the debate about general vaccination.

For the fourth day in a row, the Robert Koch Institute reports a record seven-day incidence – it has now exceeded the 500 threshold. However, the situation in the intensive care units is not as dramatic as the numbers would suggest – which is probably also due to the fact that the omicron variant has so far caused a rather mild course of the disease. Unlike the Delta variant, for example.

Critics of a general obligation to vaccinate now see their concerns confirmed. Is this serious and controversial measure really still needed? “Omicron is changing the rules of the game,” said the parliamentary manager of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Stephan Thomae, of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. “Now is not the time to just do anything and take the toughest measures possible just to show you are ready to act. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time.”

The FDP politician expresses the concerns of many of his party friends. Here one quarrels most strongly with the plan of the traffic light government to expand the vaccination requirement.

Ethics Council ambiguous

But the Ethics Council is also ambiguous in its position. The chair of the panel, Alena Buyx, recently made it clear that the panel may have to reconsider its recommendation for an extended vaccination requirement. The attitude also depends on which corona variant dominates the infection process, she told the “Spiegel”. When the majority of the Ethics Council recommended extending the compulsory vaccination to significant parts of the population in December, this was done “essentially under the conditions of the Delta variant”.

The proponents consider vaccination to be necessary because, according to many experts, the vaccination rate in Germany has so far been too low to contain the pandemic in the long term. After the previous federal government had strictly rejected such an obligation, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) spoke out in favor of it in November before taking office. At that time, the delta variant, which in many cases leads to more severe disease progression, was still determining the course of the pandemic in Germany.

Vaccination supporters stick with it

In the meantime, the omicron variant has prevailed, which is considered highly contagious but has a milder course. So does Omicron change the basis of the debate? No, say the advocates of compulsory vaccination. That doesn’t change anything. The unvaccinated person who is now getting an omicron infection will have little protection against other variants in the fall, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wrote on Twitter. “Omicron does not replace vaccination.”

The Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) said on “Bild” TV: “I think we will only get out of this pandemic if we now introduce this compulsory vaccination – no matter which variant.” He hopes that the federal government will quickly present a draft.

Motions instead of bills

But that is not to be expected. According to plans by the SPD, FDP and Greens, the Bundestag should decide on compulsory vaccination in a free vote without parliamentary group specifications. It is expected that parliamentarians across party lines will come together and submit so-called group motions. The background is also openly visible different positions in the traffic light rows – especially from the FDP, widespread reservations have already been voiced. FDP Vice Wolfgang Kubicki has already submitted an application in which compulsory vaccination is categorically rejected.

Deputy FDP chairman Johannes Vogel defended his party’s stance. In the summer, all parties were still against compulsory vaccination, he said on ZDF. The situation has changed with the more contagious Delta variant, and it may change again with Omicron. He thinks it is appropriate to decide on a question of medical ethics across faction boundaries. It is therefore right that there will be group motions in the Bundestag instead of a government motion. The opposition, especially the Union, has sharply criticized this strategy – and is demanding a government draft law.

Three vaccinations – and good?

Meanwhile, there are more concrete considerations on the possible design of the vaccination requirement. “A vaccination – if it comes – will be limited,” said SPD MP Dagmar Schmidt of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. The aim is to achieve basic immunity in the population. “At the moment we are assuming that three vaccinations protect relatively well. Then that would be it.” Lauterbach had also stated that, in his view, compulsory vaccination should include three doses of vaccine.

path to infestation

Even the virologist Klaus Stöhr does not expect that one would have to boost endlessly. Rather, there should first be a rapid spread of the disease, then a natural immunization of the population – and finally an end to the pandemic. “In the next two to three weeks there will be uncertainty as to how high the incidence will rise,” he told “Bild” TV. According to this, many people would get a natural immunity due to the strong infection, which would be “planted on top” of the immunization through vaccinations. Both together will lead to lasting immune protection, so that you don’t have to keep boosting. In the fall you have to see if you can offer vaccinations to those over 60 again.

In view of the millions of unvaccinated or at least not fully vaccinated people, caution is still very important, according to Stöhr. Nevertheless, he is convinced: “In the spring and summer it will be very relaxed.”

The virologist Christian Drosten also sees the often milder course after infection with the omicron variant as a “chance” to get into the endemic state – “assuming broad immunity”, as he told the “Tagesspiegel am Sonntag”. Sooner or later, everyone will have to be infected with Sars-Cov-2, he says. “Yes, we have to get into this channel, there is no alternative,” said Drosten. “In the long term, we cannot maintain the immune protection of the entire population with a booster vaccination every few months.” The virus has to do that.

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