POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - POLITICS

Mandatory vaccination

Lenert should have listened to experts, says medical specialist



"First they do nothing and then they say it's too late," commented Gerard Schockmel, in the face of the LSAP's willingness to wait until the situation demands it before implementing compulsory vaccination. (Photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne/archives)

"First they do nothing and then they say it's too late," commented Gerard Schockmel, in the face of the LSAP's willingness to wait until the situation demands it before implementing compulsory vaccination. (Photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne/archives)

While the LSAP wants to postpone the introduction of compulsory vaccination, Gérard Schockmel, an infectious disease expert, believes that there is no reason to wait any longer. The government has taken too long, he says, pointing the finger at health Minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP).

Mandatory vaccination for those over 50 and health care workers was given the green light in parliament on Wednesday. But the LSAP, a member of the majority, believes that it is not currently “necessary and proportionate,” to implement such an obligation and it should be implemented when the situation requires it.

However, according to Schockmel, an infectious disease specialist at the Robert Schuman Hospital (HRS) and a member of the panel of experts that recommended compulsory vaccination, the timeframe for the obligation to take effect means that the process must be implemented as soon as possible so that it can be effective for the coming winter.

Waiting any longer would only mean persevering with a strategy that was doomed in advance, according to Schockmel. He also criticises the health minister, Paulette Lenert (LSAP), for having ignored for too long the calls of experts like himself and health institutions to introduce compulsory vaccination.

When the majority of the House passed the motion paving the way for compulsory vaccination, the LSAP, despite being part of the majority, stated that at present it was neither necessary nor proportionate to introduce such a requirement, and that it was necessary to wait until the situation required it. Should we wait, as an obligation is now too late to break the omicron wave?

Gérard Schockmel. - In our report, we explain that it is not in relation to omicron that these measures will help us. But for the first time, we are preparing for the coming winter. The idea is really to be ready for the autumn.

You have to start the process now to be ready for next autumn?

If you look at how long it all takes--drafting the texts, discussing, considering the medical, ethical, legal, human rights aspects--you have to do it now, because we'll be there just before Easter, and maybe even after.

Then, the programme will also take some time to be implemented: if we do, for example, as in Austria or in other countries, there will be no sanctions for a while. Maybe we will also invite these people for an interview so that they can express their concerns and get information. And all this may take a few months to come to an end again.

We cannot stand still again.
Gérard Schockmel

Gérard SchockmelHRS

So there is no reason, from an epidemiological point of view, to postpone the implementation of mandatory vaccination?

That would be a mistake because nobody knows what will come after omicron. What we do know is that the virus will continue to circulate. So there will be variants circulating in parallel, and while the more transmissible strains will overtake the others, there is no guarantee that they will necessarily be less virulent, as is the case with omicron.

So we cannot stand still again. These steps--even though they may not take effect until June or July, and even though we can see that the strategy of not having an obligation to vaccinate is not enough--must obviously be taken now.

Do you blame the government's strategy against covid?

Last year, the government decided not to force anyone to be vaccinated. A strategy that was doomed in advance. First of all, we gave gifts to the non-vaccinated by not forcing them if they did not want to be vaccinated, by prohibiting hospitals and nursing homes from knowing who among their staff is vaccinated or not--which is, from a legal point of view, highly questionable. Introducing the CovidCheck 3G scheme, which is tantamount to considering that testing is just as good as vaccination. But getting tested does not solve any problems: only immunity can get us out of the pandemic. Testing three times a day for six months creates no immunity.

In the end, it didn't work. Then the non-vaccinated were put under extreme pressure, by taking away their rights as citizens. Now, with 2G, they are virtually excluded from social life. So, obviously, people develop resentment, they feel betrayed. All this is the result of a very bad policy, which has divided society.

In the end, it was the Minister of Justice, Sam Tanson (Déi Gréng), who took the initiative to prepare this text. So all this did not help.
Gérard Schockmel

Gérard SchockmelHRS

You reproach the government for not having introduced compulsory vaccination earlier?

Throughout 2021, Paulette Lenert ignored the recommendations of experts in favour of compulsory vaccination. She did not prepare any text, did not organise any debate, so there was no possibility to discuss anything concrete.

On 29 December, in an interview, she even said that she would prefer to discuss compulsory vaccination quietly once the pandemic had passed. Once the pandemic has passed… At that time, there were already recommendations from nursing homes and retirement homes, from the federation of hospitals, from anaesthetists, from the medical college--all in favour of compulsory vaccination.

In the end, it was the Minister of Justice, Sam Tanson (Déi Gréng), who took the initiative to prepare this text. So all this did not help.

What, in your opinion, explains the reluctance to implement compulsory vaccination?

The political calculation has always been clear: you don't want to push people too far so as not to make yourself unpopular, while hoping that the virus will do the trick and that immunity will increase as people become infected.

Besides, someone who gets infected is not going to sue the minister. But if there is an obligation to vaccinate, those who don't like it will develop a grudge against the minister, and there will be lost votes. It is these two lines of reasoning that we must ultimately question.

A recent American medical study has suggested that natural immunity was more effective in preventing infection than the covid-19 vaccine during the Delta wave. 

This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano. Additional reporting by Delano