Lawmakers in Germany rejected a proposal to implement a plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for nearly all adults aged 60 and older, which was backed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.
For the legislation to be passed, a simple majority was required. However, 378 out of 674 Bundestag members voted against the measure, while only 296 supported it, local German media outlets reported.
In a statement after the vote, Lauterbach claimed that rejecting the mandate would spark a COVID-19 outbreak in the fall and winter months.
“[A] draft law that would have brought about compulsory vaccination has just failed,” he wrote on Twitter, according to a translation. “It is a very important decision because now the fight against corona [COVID-19] will become much more difficult in the autumn. Political finger-pointing doesn’t help. We move on.”
Scholz, who recently became chancellor after Angela Merkel retired, hasn’t issued a public statement on the matter.
Those who voted against the mandate argued that the policy isn’t necessary and noted that Germany’s health care system isn’t overwhelmed with COVID-19 hospital patients.
Daily infections are at a high level in Germany, but have dipped in the past week or so, with 201,729 new cases reported on April 7.
A member of the Free Democratic Party, Wolfgang Kubicki, said vaccines won’t “help us reach herd immunity” and noted that it was unlawful to force adults to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It is not the job of this house to protect adults against their own will,” Kubicki said, Deutsche Welle reported.
Alternative for Germany leader Alice Weidel told other lawmakers that the compulsory vaccination policy is “not just radically hostile to the constitution, but a totalitarian measure.” She said a compromise on an earlier vaccine mandate for all adults—not just those aged 60 and older—is a “trojan horse” to consider more draconian policies.
Scholz was forced last week to drop plans for mandatory vaccinations for those aged 18 years and older as he couldn’t muster a parliamentary majority.
In nearby Austria, the government announced in March that it had suspended a vaccine mandate for all adults, just days before it was slated to go into effect. Under that provision, Austrian police would have been able to check people’s COVID-19 vaccination status during traffic stops or stops on the street, potentially issuing fines of up to 600 euros ($653) and more for subsequent infractions.
The policy proved to be controversial, drawing tens of thousands of protesters in Vienna and in other parts of Austria. Critics said the mandate would have greatly infringed on Austrians’ civil liberties and would have expanded government surveillance.
Reuters contributed to this report.