Germany Debates Coronavirus Vaccine ‘Passports’ and Discrimination Concerns

By James Carstensen | December 29, 2020 | 9:03pm EST
A medical worker in Stuttgart, Germany holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical worker in Stuttgart, Germany holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)

Berlin ( – German lawmakers are calling on the government to update regulations to prevent airlines and other businesses from excluding people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, after some carriers announced they intend to require proof of vaccination from passengers.

“It is unacceptable that airlines only take vaccinated people with them or that restaurants deny access to non-vaccinated people,” said the legal policy spokesman for the Social Democrats parliamentary group, Johannes Fechner.

He said his party is examining legal measures to prevent discrimination against unvaccinated people, such as amending existing legislation to make clear that including vaccination status among terms and conditions for service is prohibited.

Carriers such as Australia’s Qantas and Cebu Pacific in the Philippines have already announced they will require passengers on flights, including those to and from Europe, to show that they have been vaccinated.

On Monday, World Medical Association president Frank Ulrich Montgomery and the head of Germany's Standing Commission on Vaccination, Thomas Mertens, suggested that people immunized against the coronavirus could use a “vaccine passport" to access flights or businesses such as restaurants.

Amid the debate, the rollout of vaccines in Europe has not been going without a hitch. One day after the European Union dispatched its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Spain’s health minister reported delivery delays due to difficulties controlling the temperate of the vaccine, which must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (158 F). Meanwhile German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that only 11 to 13 million doses are expected to reach Germany by March. That would cover 13-16 percent of population, compared to the 60 percent coverage recommended by the World Health Organization.

The German government, which has opted not to make vaccination mandatory, is formally opposed to linking privileges to vaccination status.

“Many wait in solidarity so that some can be vaccinated first,” Spahn told the Funke media group on Monday. “And those who have not yet been vaccinated, expect the vaccinated to be patient in solidarity.”

“Nobody should claim special rights until everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated,” he stressed. “We are fighting the pandemic together – and we will only overcome it together.”

Earlier Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned that “special treatment for the vaccinated would divide society.”

Seehofer conceded that the government may not be able to stop businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, as existing laws on discrimination do not appear to cover the issue. As such all he could do was “warn against it,” he said.

Volker Ullrich, legal policy spokesman for the Christian Social Union, the junior partner in the governing coalition, told the Tagesschau newspaper on Tuesday that although existing law would prohibit discrimination between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people on public transport, it would not apply to the private sector.

Sebastian Bickerich, spokesman for the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, confirmed that legislation would need to be updated.

Some E.U. countries have indicated a readiness to track those who have and have not received a vaccine, although without saying whether vaccination status would carry privileges.

Estonia earlier in the year reported testing of a “digital immunity passport” to track those recovered from COVID-19, while Spain has said it will create a database of people who refuse to be vaccinated, and share it with the rest of the E.U.

“What will be done is a registry, which will be shared with our European partners of those people who have been offered it and have simply rejected it,” Spain’s health minister said on Monday, without elaborating on the purpose of such a database.

Britain, now withdrawn from the E.U., has formally ruled out immunity passports, but recently-appointed vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has suggested that private businesses such as pubs could opt to deny entry to customers who have refused vaccination.

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