The German government has buried its plans to introduce a coronavirus vaccine mandate after parliament rejected it, but says further restrictions may be inevitable to protect more vulnerable citizens.
MPs voted against the draft bill on Thursday, which had it passed would have made it compulsory for over-60s to receive a vaccine, in what is seen as a humiliating defeat for the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who has long been calling for the legislation.
Originally the government’s plan had been for a widespread mandate to cover anyone over the age of 18. When that failed to attract enough support, it increased the age to over 50 and over 60. MPs rejected it by 378 to 296.
The health minister, Karl Lauterbach, who has also been a firm backer of a mandate, arguing that Germany’s vaccination rate among older people is too low, said on Friday that he could not rule out the need to reintroduce restrictions such as mask wearing, especially in the autumn when the virus is expected to surge.
About 76% of Germans are fully vaccinated, below the government’s target of 80%. Of particular concern are the 2 million – around 12% – of over-60s who are unvaccinated, a figure Lauterbach has repeatedly said is around three to four times higher in that age group than in other comparable countries such as the UK.
On Friday, a representative of German hospitals said that the daily rate of deaths from Covid-19 – which has been oscillating between 200 and 300 for weeks – was “scarily high”, particularly when it was known that most of the deaths were likely to have been preventable.
He said 80% of those being admitted to hospital with the virus were over 60, and the majority of deaths were of people who were unvaccinated.