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As Germany’s COVID vaccine mandate is delayed, beware anyone who says the issue has easy answers

January 10, 2022, 12:13 PM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

Six weeks ago, Germany’s chancellor-in-waiting (now installed) Olaf Scholz signaled the introduction of a vaccine mandate, to begin around February or March.

Austria had already announced its looming mandate, which will come into force on Feb. 1. But the German timetable looks decidedly shaky today, with lawmakers now looking at May or June instead. That’s due to a mix of factors, including legislative timetables and technical considerations such as the development and implementation of a nationwide vaccine register. There’s also disagreement within the ruling coalition about the concept of a vaccine mandate, with opposition coming from some members of the liberal (in the center-right European sense) Free Democrats.

Either way, as the outspoken Health Minister Karl Lauterbach pointed out on the weekend, the mandate won’t come in time to do much against Omicron: “With compulsory vaccinations we won’t really be able to aggressively stop the Omicron wave we’re going through right now. What we will be able to do with compulsory vaccination—that’s why I remain a clear advocate of a vaccine mandate—is avoid facing the same problem in the fall with a variant that might be much more dangerous.”

Indeed, as World Health Organization COVID technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove noted in a Friday press conference, “it is very unlikely that Omicron will be the last variant you’ll hear us speaking about.” And that is why governments everywhere need to keep up the pressure on people to get vaccinated.

I personally think the time has come for vaccine mandates, due to the sheer obstinacy of holdouts and the need to do everything we can to bring this pandemic to an end. As a longstanding civil liberties advocate, I certainly understand many of the arguments against compulsory vaccination. However, I’m more than skeptical about some of the arguments being put out there right now, such as this anti-mandate Wall Street Journal op-ed, which argues that “the best policy might be to let Omicron run its course while protecting the most vulnerable, naturally immunizing the vast majority against COVID through infection by a relatively benign strain.”

The op-ed asserts that there is no evidence that vaccines prevent serious infection by Omicron, despite extremely clear evidence from the Omicron-swamped U.K. that patients in critical care are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, and early evidence from New York City that suggests something similar. (Worth noting: the piece was co-authored by Luc Montagnier, who won a 2008 Nobel Prize for his discovery of HIV, but who has since become a highly controversial figure for, among other things, appearing at a vaccines-cause-autism conference and claiming that DNA fragments can teleport between test tubes. He has also asserted that SARS-CoV-2 is man-made, a theory for which there is no evidence.)

Lauterbach, himself an epidemiologist, certainly has no time for what he calls “dirty vaccination”. Even though Omicron appears milder than previous COVID variants, he said, “many people would become seriously ill with often permanent damage.” Not so easy to brush that off, nor can we ignore the immense pressure that Omicron is putting on hospitals.

This is a complicated debate and, frankly, it should be. Where a conflict between fundamental rights is concerned—bodily integrity versus protection from harm—beware anyone who says there’s an easy answer. More news below.

David Meyer
@superglaze

david.meyer@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

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Djokovic visa

The furore around Novak Djokovic's Australian visa trundles on, with a judge now having quashed the visa's cancellation. That may mean the unvaccinated Serbian tennis star can leave his Melbourne quarantine hotel and go play in the Australian Open… or the government might still deport him. That decision will come tomorrow at the earliest. Fortune

Deltacrontroversy

Some scientists aren't convinced by the alleged discovery in Cyprus of a new "Deltacron" variant that combines features of the Delta and Omicron COVID strains. They say Leonidos Kostrikis's findings are likely the result of laboratory contamination, but the Cypriot scientist is standing by this assertion. Fortune

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Crypto legend—as in, cryptography, the original tech usage of the term—and Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike has laid into the NFT/web3 craze, suggesting it's rife with pyramid schemes. But Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin disagrees, saying Marlinspike's critiques "are missing where the blockchain ecosystem is going." Fortune

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

Binance CEO

Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Binance, is apparently the world's 11th-richest person with a net worth of $96 billion, which places him in-between Reliance's Mukesh Ambani and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. The estimate, by Bloomberg, is based on Zhao's stake in Binance—he might even be Bill-Gates-level rich when taking into account Zhao's own crypto holdings. Fortune

School closures

While COVID wreaks havoc in U.S. schools, governments in Asia and Europe are pretty determined to keep schools open now, whatever happens. That, however, is still dependent on staffing, which is taking a big hit. Fortune

Lab crisis

Some U.S. laboratories are having to ration access to COVID-19 test processing, due to overwhelming demand. Many are prioritizing tests for people who are symptomatic. Wall Street Journal

Antiwork

The Financial Times has a fascinating piece on the "antiwork" movement, which "encourages followers to work as little as possible in traditional jobs or abandon them altogether for self-employment, with the goal of prioritizing leisure time." Goldman Sachs reckons it could be a long-term risk to labor force participation. FT

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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