As protests grow in EU countries and worldwide against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and so-called “vaccine passports,” some countries appear to be backtracking or at least harboring second thoughts about enforcing such measures, while others are digging in their heels and moving forward with punitive restrictions on the unvaccinated.
As protests grow in EU countries and worldwide against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and so-called “vaccine passports,” some countries appear to be backtracking or at least harboring second thoughts about enforcing such measures.
Some policymakers point to evidence COVID is here to stay and we need to live with it, since Omicron is similar to the common cold or seasonal flu. Others appear more willing to accept natural immunity in lieu of vaccination.
Still, other governments are digging in their heels and moving forward with punitive restrictions on the unvaccinated.
Here’s a look at the latest shifting policies outside the U.S.
Austria, citing ‘technical complications,’ won’t enforce mandates until at least April
Austria garnered much attention in November 2021 when it became the first country in the world to impose an all-encompassing vaccine mandate for its entire adult population and minors 14 years old and up.
This mandate, set to take effect in February, would be accompanied by fines of up to 3,600 euros per quarter. To that end, Austria recently reportedly began hiring “headhunters” to track down those who continue to remain unvaccinated.
An open letter recently sent to Austria’s Interior Minister, Gerhard Karner, signed by 600 police officers, also expressed opposition to mandatory vaccination.
This opposition may be having an impact. Recently, the firm responsible for the technical implementation of the mandate announced that due to “technical complications,” the mandatory vaccination law cannot be enforced until at least April.
Germany struggling with mandate implementation; support not unanimous
Similar concerns over the feasibility of rapid implementation of a vaccine mandate have been raised in Germany, which has also mulled the implementation of compulsory vaccinations and has already approved such a mandate for healthcare workers.
In December 2021, Germany’s Ethics Council also gave its stamp of approval for vaccine mandates.
Nevertheless, concerns have been raised in Germany that parliamentary debate and subsequent technical implementation of a vaccination database cannot be completed before June at the earliest, calling into question the feasibility of the mandate in light of rapidly changing conditions.
Such hesitation comes despite renewed calls from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for an immediate full parliamentary debate on a potential vaccine mandate, and from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for COVID vaccines to be mandated.
Similarly, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach recently suggested vaccine mandates, not natural herd immunity stemming from the rapid spread of the Omicron variant — which he described as “dirty vaccination” — represent the only way “out” of the crisis.
In November 2021, Lauterbach’s predecessor, Jens Spahn, publicly predicted that by the end of the coming winter, everyone would be “vaccinated, recovered, or dead” — due to the Delta variant.
Despite these public proclamations from German politicians though, recent reports suggest support for a vaccine mandate in Germany’s three-party governing coalition is far from unanimous.
Nevertheless, some localities in Germany are moving ahead with their own innovative means of confirming individuals’ vaccination status.
The city of Saarbrücken will soon launch a system where individuals who received a COVID vaccine or who have recovered from infection can voluntarily wear a colored wristband to indicate their status.
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