BERLIN- As Germany gears up to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory in the healthcare sector, the industry fears that resistance among some workers will exacerbate staffing shortages and leave many families reliant on carers in the lurch.
Around 90% of medical staff in Germany are vaccinated, compared to about 70% in the general population, but that still leaves hundreds of thousands not vaccinated.
Institutions and families that are heavily reliant on workers from eastern Europe where vaccination rates are lower have particular reason to be worried, said Daniel Schloer, the owner of the SunaCare GmbH agency that matches German families with Polish carers looking for work abroad.
Poland has a vaccination rate of 56%, according to government data.
"Among the carers we currently work with, the rate is around 40%. This means 60% of households will have a problem getting the care they need," Schloer said.
According to Germany's Federal Association for Home Care and Nursing, around 300,000 care workers from eastern Europe look after some of 4 million Germans in need of medical assistance as the country struggles with labour shortages at home.
The coronavirus pandemic has made the crunch even worse as many healthcare workers cannot cope with the bigger workload, a problem also faced by other European countries including France and the United Kingdom which have also made vaccination mandatory for the sector.
"We have a few vaccinated workers that have already registered as job seekers at the employment agency," said Christian Ludwig, owner of out-of-hospital intensive care centre Home Intensiv.
In Germany, it is possible to register as a job seeker while still working.
According to the German Federal Employment Agency, the number of job seekers in nursing professions rose to 12,400 in 2020 from 10,800 in 2019.
Not everyone who refuses to get a shot will have to change sector though, say some workers, as there are workaround solutions. Companies registered in Poland can hire carers as household helpers instead, according to a Polish carer in Germany who could not be named to protect her identity.
"You do the same thing, just under a different job title. Everyone who has some brains and understands this will do the same thing as me," the carer said.
She said she trusted God, not a vaccine, to protect her from the coronavirus. She added she fully recovered from a car accident that doctors said would leave her unable to walk, a feat she trusted that had something to do with the Bible in the glove compartment.
Schloer, whose company owns a Polish subsidiary, SunaCare Spolka z o.o., said he was not aware of the loophole but expected it would be exposed soon and the companies that exploit it would have to face the consequences.
"Trying to bypass the rules can only have a very short-term effect," he said.
(Reporting by Nicole Moritz, Zuzanna Szymanska and Leon Malherbe; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +49 30 4036 18603;))