Germany’s vaccination push struggles with shortages and violence

Police and protesters face off during a rally against Covid-19 restrictions and mandatory vaccination in Frankfurt am Main on December 4th. Photograph: Yann Schreiber/AFP via Getty Images


Germany is braced for an unhappy new year, with a looming shortfall in Covid-19 vaccines for its booster campaign and a foiled murder plot against a regional leader.

Police raided five homes in and around Dresden on Wednesday morning, arresting four men and a woman they suspect of plotting to kill Saxon minister president Michael Kretschmer.

“Remarks by individual members of the Telegram chat group created the suspicion that they were in possession of armed weapons and crossbows,” said Dresden police in a statement.

The group, which was exposed by a German television show, had more than 100 members posting anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi material and was focused on opposition to Germany’s proposed Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

In one voice message, a group member says: “I hope we can find a few patriots who are ready, if necessary, to use armed violence against these dumb spastics who want to put us down and destroy us.”

Another, who spoke of owning guns, ammunition and crossbows, agreed: “No one will vaccinate me. If they come for me I’ll take someone with me.”

After meeting in a forest, another reminded the group what they had discussed: “To do away with the minister president.” Another added: “We should march in there, drag the guy out and hang him, then the next person.”

Radicalisation

The Wednesday raids highlight growing radicalisation against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccinations, in particular in Saxony where 41 per cent of the population still has not had two jabs.

Last week a radical group organised a torch-lit march to the home of the Saxon state health minister, a move widely condemned by politicians.

In recent days police in cities across Germany have had running street battles with radicalised Covid-19 vaccine opponents and conspiracy theorists.

In Berlin, police say a dozen politicians across the country have received letters containing raw meat, promising “bloody resistance” against plans to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory in the new year.

This week the Bundestag passed a law making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory from mid-March for all working in the healthcare and residential care sectors.

But plans to widen that vaccine mandate to all, while pushing ahead with booster jabs, could come to a standstill in the new year.

Federal health minister Karl Lauterbach warned on Tuesday evening that a stocktake of Germany’s vaccine stocks had revealed a serious shortfall looming in the new year.

“That surprised a lot of people doing the inventory, me too,” said Prof Lauterbach, a leading epidemiologist. “I’ve been working for days to end this shortage and I hope I’ll have a positive message in a few days.”

On Wednesday, Social Democratic Party politician Olaf Scholz, in his first Bundestag address as chancellor, promised a firm pushback against an estimated 20,000 people security experts believe are ready to use violence against politicians.

“We will not allow a tiny minority of uninhibited extremists try to force their will on our entire society,” said Mr Scholz. “We will make sure that the perpetrators of hate and agitation online can be identified and penalised.”

Numbers dropping

A week after he succeeded Angela Merkel, inheriting the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, infection numbers are beginning to drop once more.

But with the Omicron variant spreading, and a growing shortage of rapid tests, German health ministers agreed measures on Wednesday to speed up the delivery of booster jabs.

Among the new incentives, those with a third jab will not be required to take a Covid-19 test for indoor events – in particular concerts – which require both a vaccine certificate and a recent negative test.

Unless Germany’s vaccine procurement body can secure extra doses, however, leading doctors have warned that both the booster drive and the vaccine mandate could collapse.

For weeks, doctors have complained that they are receiving only half their orders of Comirnaty, the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. The Merkel administration tried to salvage the situation by pushing doctors to use stockpiles of the Moderna vaccine, which was nearing its expiration date. But a new rush for vaccinations – more than one million daily – has seen all vaccine stocks dwindle.

Andreas Gassen, head of Germany’s leading doctors’ organisation, said of the shortfall: “It’s impossible to explain that a country that develops vaccines bought too little.”