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Germany's president called Wednesday for a thorough debate over plans for compulsory coronavirus vaccinations in the country, saying such a drastic measure needs to be comprehensively justified.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has backed calls for a vaccine mandate and lawmakers are expected to begin debating a bill later this month. Polls show a majority of people in Germany back compulsory vaccination against COVID-19, but a vocal minority opposes the idea.
“The exceptional situation of a pandemic increases the pressure for the state to act, but it doesn't replace the requirement to weigh up arguments and balance interests,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the beginning of a roundtable debate with citizens on the issue.
“A vaccine mandate means a debate mandate,” he added.
Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, said he wouldn't take sides in the debate but urged those involved to have “respect for other positions, but also respect for facts and reason that must be and remain our common currency.”
He dismissed as “complete nonsense claims that the coronavirus pandemic has turned Germany into a dictatorship,” saying such allegations betray contempt for our democratic institutions and the rule of law.
“Among friends, at work, in schools, in daycare centers, in clinics and nursing homes, in city halls, health offices and parliaments, people everywhere are trying to figure out together what needs to be done” to fight the pandemic, Steinmeier said. “And that’s exactly what this democratic struggle is about, also for us here today in this debate.”
Among the people debating was a nurse from Cologne and the head of a nursing home in Berlin who both stressed how essential it is to be vaccinated so that especially the most vulnerable of society — those who are ill and old — can be protected from the virus.
A professor for health communication pointed out that a lot of the people who refuse to get vaccinated are simply afraid of the vaccines. Cornelia Betsch criticized authorities for initially missing many opportunities to better explain how safe and important the vaccines are.
“Many people are simply afraid of getting vaccinated and a mandate can create counter feelings,” she said adding that there need to be more efforts to inform those who are hesitant about the advantages of vaccinations.
Around 72.2% of Germans are considered “fully vaccinated,” while at least 44.2 % have received an additional booster shot.
Germany's disease control agency reported 80,430 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a single day, a new record since the start of the pandemic. The country saw 384 additional deaths linked to the coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
Among those who oppose a vaccine mandate are some members of the Free Democrats, who are part of the ruling coalition, and Germany’s former health minister who pledged last summer not to introduce a general vaccine mandate. Political leaders have agreed to let lawmakers vote according to their own conscience rather than along party lines on the issue.
The looming mandate has also been a rallying point for vocal anti-vaccine campaigners who have taken part in protests against Germany’s pandemic restrictions. Some recent demonstrations have turned violent, with protesters attacking police officers after being ordered to disperse.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic