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Germany Shifts Focus of Vaccine Drive to the Undecided and Skeptics

  • July 09, 2021

Zastrow and his people have tried a lot. They have gone from door to door at people’s homes. About half of the people didn’t open their doors. Others only shook their heads and turned away the vaccination providers as if they were pestering them. He says that only about 10 percent actually agreed to come and get their jabs on the vaccination bus.

Several politicians are looking closely at the United States where, in some areas, vaccinations are being encouraged with rewards like donuts or even marijuana. Or to France, where the government is putting up posters of hot-and-heavy couples alongside the words, “desirable side-effects,” and sending vaccination teams to beaches this summer.

Former German Family Minister Franziska Giffey of the SPD recently suggested the government should use free tickets to museums and concerts to encourage people to get vaccinated. In Saarland, Governor Tobias Hans of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is considering organizing a lottery with a bicycle or foreign-language course as a prize. Meanwhile, Oliver Schenk, the chief of staff for the governor of the eastern state of Saxony, has brought up the idea of meal vouchers for people willing to get vaccinated.

High Vaccine Skepticism in Saxony

Saxony is trailing behind all other states in terms of the percentage of its population that has received a first dose of COVID vaccine, and it needs to ramp up its vaccination campaign up to full. But that’s not easy. Researchers at the Dresden University of Technology investigated vaccine skepticism in the state in May and determined that “a considerable proportion of those older than 18” are “still decidedly skeptical” about vaccination. According to their findings, 9 percent “tend” toward not getting the jab, while 12 percent “definitely” do not want to be vaccinated. According to the RKI, a national average of just under 4 percent firmly reject vaccination.

According to the study, younger people are overrepresented among Saxony’s vaccine skeptics, and these include many women. The researchers have found that many graduated from non-college-track secondary schools, have a below-average income and no children. Those who “tend” not to want a vaccine or “definitely” do not want one are also generally more likely to be on the right of the political spectrum and are often supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The scene’s geographical focus is eastern Saxony – in the cities of Bautzen, Görlitz, Chemnitz and in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region.

These are also regions where political forces have been actively using the COVID pandemic to stir people up for months. In the Erzgebirge, for instance, the Freie Sachsen (or Free Saxonians) – a political party that is being monitored by the state branch of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and has been classified as right-wing extremist – has been agitating people on the issue. The party became famous through its COVID-related actions, with weekly protests in the region and slogans like, “Stop the Corona Dictatorship.”

Donuts will hardly be enough to convince such hardliners to get vaccinated. But payments of up to 500 euros, as some economists have brought up as possible premiums for the undecided, are also problematic: How are you going to explain the unfairness of such payments to those who got vaccinated earlier of their own accord, without expecting any kind of reward?

Garg, the health minister in Schleswig-Holstein, rejects the idea of providing incentives using taxpayer money. He says the fight against the pandemic is a common task. “If companies want to encourage their employees to get vaccinated by offering them rewards, then that’s a great addition,” he says. “But we as a state are currently not planning that.”

Nonetheless, the FDP politician believes that developments in the coming weeks and months are likely to increase the pressure on the unvaccinated. Once all people in Germany have the option of being vaccinated, he says, restrictions will likely be removed for people who have been immunized. However, those who refuse to get vaccinated will have to continue living with limitations – having to wear masks to protect risk groups, for example.

Peter Tschentscher of the SPD, who is the mayor of the city-state of Hamburg, paints a similar picture. He says the infection rate could soon rise again because of the delta variant. “If COVID-19 restrictions become necessary again,” he says, “those who are fully vaccinated should be exempt from them.”

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