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Berlin — Germany's Foreign Minister wants people who've had a full two doses of coronavirus vaccine to be exempted from lockdown restrictions. But the idea hasn't been well received among his peers in government, or by medical experts.
Germany's mass-vaccination campaign against COVID-19 kicked off at the end of December. So far, only about 1 million people have had at least a first shot, and vaccine doses are in short supply. Despite the slow start, Health Minister Jens Spahn expects that everyone in Germany who wants it will have access to vaccination by the summer.
But Foreign Minister Heiko Maas doesn't think people who've had a full vaccine regimen should have to wait for the others to get their "basic rights" back.
"Vaccinated people should be allowed to exercise their basic rights again," Maas told the country's biggest tabloid, "Bild am Sonntag."
"It is not yet clear to what extent vaccinated people can infect others. What is clear, however, is that a vaccinated person will no longer take a ventilator away from anyone. This removes at least one central reason for restricting fundamental rights," said the nation's top diplomat.
Maas and others also argue that easing restrictions for as many people as possible, as soon as possible, will help get the economy moving again.
Referring to the owners of restaurants, cinemas, theaters and museums, all of which remain closed under current rules, Maas said, "they have a right to reopen their businesses at some point, if there is an opportunity to do so. And there is if more and more people are vaccinated. Because once there are only vaccinated people in the restaurant or cinema, they can't endanger each other anymore."
Germany's Federal Ministry of Health has rejected the idea.
"Interventions in civil liberties must always be well justified," a spokesman for the ministry told Germany's dpa news agency. "But as long as it is not clear whether a vaccinated person can transmit the virus, there can be no exceptions."
Professor Karl Lauterbach, a physician and member of Germany's parliament, agrees. He told CBS News that, in his view, it isn't a matter of rights, but privileges, and until vaccination is available to everyone in the country, everyone should remain subject to the same restrictions.
"It is still unclear whether vaccinated people can continue to spread the virus, even if they themselves are immune. If so, they would continue to be a danger to others, and the pandemic wouldn't be effectively contained" if some were allowed to mingle freely again, Lauterbach said.
So far Germany's government has rejected Maas' call and anti-virus restrictions still apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
"Rights" or discrimination?
But David Henning, who runs a nursery home in Berlin, agrees with Maas. One of the first to be vaccinated in the German capital, he told CBS News that it seems logical he should now be permitted to live life much more like he did before.
"People who are willing to get the jab are contributing to the goal of reaching herd immunity," Henning said. "The least they can expect is to regain basic rights, given, of course, that science will soon be able to confirm that vaccinated people can't infect others."
Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, has also suggested vaccination should carry benefits beyond simply avoiding the deadly virus. He told German public broadcaster ARD that, in the long term, he can envision granting vaccinated people more relief from restrictions. He drew comparisons to other vaccines, such the ones for yellow fever and measles: Without the yellow fever vaccine, for example, you can't get into certain countries.
Montgomery said people who've been inoculated against COVID-19 should be allowed back onto long-haul flights without the need for a coronavirus test, and be let back into theaters and restaurants without masks — once it's scientifically proven that they can't infect others.
But he agrees with Maas' detractors that, "at the moment, when you can't offer everyone a vaccination, such an approach is out of the question."
There's some support for Maas' stance among European Union officials in Brussels.
"It's not about privileges, but about fundamental rights," German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Peter Liese told the magazine Der Spiegel.
Manfred Weber, another German MEP, went further: "People who agree to be vaccinated are among the heroes in this crisis," he said. "They are taking the fight to the coronavirus. It will therefore be difficult to deny them their basic rights in the longer-term."
But the European Commission, the EU's governing body, rejects that view.
"Under absolutely no circumstances do we wish to create a situation in which people who do not wish to be vaccinated or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons are discriminated against," EC Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on a recent video conference of European foreign ministers.
Governments aside, some businesses are already working to link COVID-19 vaccination to the provision of their services. In November, Australia'smajor airline to announce that it would only accept international travelers with proof of vaccination, once the vaccines are widely rolled out.