“Protect the very old first”

A caregiver will be vaccinated © Valentin Bianchi

Bavaria’s Minister President Soder calls for compulsory vaccination for caregivers. The willingness there is too low. Professor Andreas Lob-Hudepohl of the German Ethics Council finds: A duty is not the solution to the problem.

Interviewer: Markus Soder argues yes with the measles vaccination duty. Vaccinating is showing solidarity, helping to end the pandemic. Actually ethically clean or not?

Prof. Andreas Lob-Hudepohl (Kath. University of Social Sciences, member of the German Ethics Council): Solidarity by inoculations is clean with security. When it is a decision that everyone makes for themselves. Because also with a vaccination quite usual risks are connected.

On measles vaccination, ethics council has endorsed occupation-specific mandatory vaccination for certain health, education and social service groups. Because, first, measles vaccinations were introduced. Long-term risks largely excluded. That cannot be said at the moment with regard to the Corona vaccination.

And secondly, and this is actually the main argument, which also led the Ethics Council already last fall to say: now not such a vaccination obligation. Because with a vaccination also the non-infectiousness must be connected. This means that not only must I be immune myself, but I must also stop transmitting the virus to others.

But unfortunately this is not yet clarified at present. The only thing that is clear is whether you are protected yourself. In this respect such a vaccination duty, if one wanted to introduce it, would be highly dangerous, because exactly this knowledge must first still go around.

Interviewer: Now one could also argue in such a way: The state, in its duty of care, takes special care of caregivers. It is however also not the correct argument for you, or?

Praise-Hudepohl: No, not at all. Because the most important thing, if you’ll pardon the expression, is the prioritization group of the very old. They have a much higher risk of not only getting the virus themselves. The crucial problem is that severe and even fatal courses take place via the virus.

And there, of course, the very old and the residents of old people’s homes are very much at risk. They must be protected. They are protected by a prioritized vaccination. This is starting now. The nursing staff will also have to be protected so that they don’t drop out.

Therefore they have a second priority. But the first thing to do to meet the government’s duty of care is to vaccinate the vulnerable groups first. And that’s what’s happening now.

Otherwise, the state must ensure that there is a broad education campaign so that reservations can be reduced. And to think about compulsory vaccination at this point in time, I personally think is rather counterproductive.

Interviewer: But it is now the wish of the Bavarian Minister President that you, as the Ethics Council, should advise which professional groups are eligible for such a vaccination. Will you not simply refer him to November and thus put the ie to rest?

Praise-Hudepohl: We have not yet discussed this in the Council and I am not authorized to speak for the Council as such. We will certainly discuss it, because not only Mr. Soder has spoken about it, but because it has always been in the discussion of the Ethics Council itself.

We have formulated a basic position, together, by the way, with the Leopoldina and also with the Permanent Vaccination Commission. And we will now certainly always check whether the reservations that we put down in writing at the time and also conveyed to the federal government still exist. From my perspective they still exist.

But if the majority of the council says no, it no longer exists, then we can refer to an opinion of the Ethics Council from 2019. There we have established the criteria for an occupation-specific vaccination requirement, for example for health care or also for social services.

And then we will possibly also be able to name more precise groups. But in my opinion it is not necessary now.

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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