Free and democratic

By Henning Kullack-Ublick, April 2020

When our four children caught the measles one after the other over twenty years ago, the local doctor visited us because he had never seen a child with measles “live” before. We are among those fortunate ones whose children all recovered fully and, as we believe to have observed, went through a big developmental step as a result. For that they had to stay in bed for at least four weeks and at home for six.

Yet nevertheless I do not oppose vaccination. After all, is the question relevant any longer in Germany – not least because of the so-called vaccination protection act? Has our society not long ago become organised such that children’s diseases which last longer than a few days are no longer allowed to happen because there is hardly anyone left who can afford to spend weeks at home with the children – or would want to? In 2010, the then Social Democratic vice chancellor advocated more nursery places and better access for women to the labour market. In doing so, he did not, incidentally, use the argument of what should actually be the self-evident right of women but with the necessity of improving the productivity of the economy.

Ten years later, there are not many families left who can actually afford for one parent to remain at home for a longer period, be it in the early years of life or, at least, for a longer illness. For single mothers – and it is almost always single mothers – this is even more difficult to organise. The vaccination debate is a debate for the privileged, the only ones – so far – even to have had this choice. Children do not have a choice, they are dependent on the decisions of adults...

... which brings me to schools and kindergartens. Both institutions live by the trust which develops in the concrete relationships with the children and their parents, by the positive reinforcement of and challenges for the children in a protected space. When a law forbids kindergartens to take children whose immunity cannot be proved; when it obliges schools to report children without such proof to the authorities; when it forbids nursery and kindergarten teachers, teachers, staff and even honorary trustees from working without such proof and school or kindergarten principals are punished with hefty fines if they fail in their checking and reporting obligations, this is no longer about vaccination but about a massive intervention by the state in the tasks of educational institutions. Information: yes! Fighting measles: yes! Vaccination to protect against life-threatening diseases: yes!

But no law should be allowed to turn schools or kindergartens into an extension of the executive if we care even one jot about calling our society free and democratic. Incidentally, increasing polarisation can be observed in those countries that already have mandatory vaccination. And for anyone who wants advice there are doctors!

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