Political and media campaign scapegoats nurses in Germany

By Gregor Link
19 January 2021

The pandemic is taking on increasingly catastrophic proportions in 2021. Since the beginning of the year, COVID-19 has officially claimed 12,673 lives in Germany, with the past two weeks being the deadliest in the entire course of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the country reached another historic high of more than 1,200. Since Monday, more than 1,000 people have died from the virus every day, according to figures from Washington D.C.’s Johns Hopkins University.

Amid this unprecedented mass death toll, which has already led to completely overloaded crematoria, millions of people are confronted with murderous government policies that flatly refuse to cut the oligarchs’ profits in favour of a life-saving shutdown.

According to the latest representative Deutschlandtrend national poll by broadcaster ARD, an absolute majority of 53 percent support the “December coronavirus measures,” which have been called a “ hard lockdown “ in the media. A further 30 percent of respondents believe that the measures adopted “do not go far enough” to end the death toll. Some 32 percent of respondents even want to “tighten up” the supposedly more effective “coronavirus measures after January 10.”

The figures make clear that in addition to the immediate closure of all schools, day care centres and nonessential businesses, a massive global expansion of production capacity for free vaccines must also be initiated. Such globally coordinated action would undoubtedly save millions of lives.

But because the ruling class is neither willing nor able to do so, it is instead responding with a disinformation campaign and vile attacks on nurses, who are on the front lines of the pandemic. While they protect countless lives every day, they have been lied to and deceived by the government for years.

Social Democratic (SPD) health politician Karl Lauterbach kicked things off last year. In mid-December, he criticised the “great reluctance” and allegedly “low willingness to be vaccinated” among “medical personnel” in an interview with the notoriously right-wing papers of the Funke media group. In naming possible reasons for this, Lauterbach did not cite a lack of information about possible side effects but attributed selfish motives, including “the assessment of many doctors and nurses that they do not belong to the high-risk group.”

Since then, hardly a day goes by without major newspapers publishing condescending comments questioning the “willingness of nurses to be vaccinated” or leading politicians launching media attacks against them. For example, the pro-SPD weekly Die Zeit on January 6 had a headline, “Dangerous vaccination skeptics in German hospitals,” blaming workers in clinics and care homes for the fact that “the virus can infect patients who are already seriously ill.”

Only three days later, Der Spiegel published a column by its editor, Alexander Neubacher, under the headline, “Contrarians in white,” in which he described anxious nurses as “unscrupulous gamblers” who “put the lives of those needing protection at risk” and had “no business in the operating theatre or at the nursing bed”: “Only those who have proof of vaccination [should be] let loose on the sick and elderly. ... I wish hospitals and care homes could force them to be vaccinated.”

Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder also spoke recently of a “high refusal to be vaccinated among care workers in old people’s and nursing homes” and called for “compulsory vaccination” for certain “groups.”

Once again, Thuringia’s Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Left Party), who in recent months has always strictly rejected even regionally limited shutdowns of the economy and instead embraced the vaccination policy of the Swedish government, made the most vicious statements. In an interview with broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on January 5, he blamed the consequences of the shortage of infection control and hospital staff, for which he was responsible, on “the fact that some staff simply will not get vaccinated.”

This is a transparent attempt to declare nurses the next scapegoats—after foreigners, “returning travellers” and young people—to divert attention from the devastating consequences of the policies of the ruling class. The basis of the entire propaganda is a nonrepresentative online survey by DIVI and DGIIN, in which supposedly 2,305 doctors and nurses had participated, but which could be answered by anyone who happened to come into possession of the participation link.

While nurses are being scapegoated and slandered, the federal and state governments refuse to shut down the central drivers of the pandemic—schools, factories, offices and day care centres—and to organise a coordinated lockdown across Europe, as demanded by over 1,000 scientists from all over the continent. A generally compulsory protective vaccination, combined with a comprehensive information campaign under transparent scientific supervision, is also strictly rejected by all parties.

The reason for this is that the population’s willingness to be vaccinated is much higher than the current vaccination rate. This is most obvious in Thuringia, which with 1.03 vaccination doses per 100 inhabitants still has the second lowest vaccination rate among all federal states. Nationwide, even three weeks after the start of vaccinations, only 1.26 vaccination doses per 100 inhabitants were administered, according to the figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The Deutschlandtrend survey also shows that millions of people would get vaccinated immediately if it were made possible. According to the survey, almost 75 percent of respondents would like to receive an immunisation jab as soon as it is their turn. An absolute majority of respondents describe the “pace of vaccination in Germany” as “too slow.” Only 8 percent described it as “too fast.”

According to a report by broadcaster MDR, “No valid data exist on the current willingness to be vaccinated among nursing staff,” but that most state health ministries surveyed reported a contrary trend. Saxony-Anhalt, for example, states that “the willingness to be vaccinated among nursing staff in old people’s homes has risen by about 20 to 30 percent,” and there was still “an upward trend” among medical staff with a current willingness of “50 to 60 percent.” Saxony speaks of a “high readiness” in nursing, with “up to 80 percent in Leipzig.”

In Thuringia, according to MDR, “a final decision” on “how data could be collected on this” has “not yet been made.” Therefore, Ramelow’s insinuations lack any factual basis. Overall, the MDR report states that “the willingness to be vaccinated among medical and nursing staff does not seem to differ significantly from that of the general population.” In internal papers of the federal government, reported by Die Welt in December, a vaccination readiness of 80 percent is assumed for “health care workers” and “in-patient hospital treatment/nursing.”

The media smear campaign against nurses and care workers is part of attempts to cover up the criminal failures of the federal and provincial governments and, at the same time, create the greatest possible confusion among workers. Besides false claims about alleged “unwillingness to vaccinate,” this includes the demand for “compulsory vaccination for certain occupational groups” In the autumn, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs under Franziska Giffey (SPD) had vilified nurses and care workers in the worst possible way. It produced a multipart mini-series entitled, “Ehrenpflegas” (honourary caregivers), costing €700,000 with several young Netflix stars which was published on YouTube in October. The series consisted of a string of vicious clichés and was rightly taken by nurses as an insult that had nothing to do with the reality in the hospitals and old people’s homes.

According to news magazine Focus, citing a government report, there is a shortage of at least 120,000 care workers in old people’s and nursing homes. In hospitals, depending on the source, the shortage is at least 50,000. According to the report, more than one in three nurses/care workers suffers from “emotional exhaustion” to the point of burnout. The magazine further states that each additional hospital patient per nurse statistically increases the risk of death by 7 percent.

Meanwhile, most nurses have never seen anything of the “Coronavirus Premium” announced with great fanfare. The bonus plan for hospital nurses agreed by Health Minister Spahn explicitly provided for the bonus to be paid to “a maximum of 100,000 nurses,” i.e., less than one-ninth of the full staff. Social scientist Professor Stefan Sell calls the low and unfairly distributed one-off payments a “toxic divide” to which the private health insurers have made little contribution.

While workers on the front line against the coronavirus are poorly paid, ridiculed and downright burned out, representatives of the state and the military have received generous payments. For example, a coronavirus premium of up to €600 was unbureaucratically transferred into the bank accounts of federal civil servants, soldiers and voluntary conscripts as early as November due to the “additional burdens” they supposedly faced.

The fact is that all governments have been pursuing a “profits before lives” policy since the first appearance of the coronavirus and which has already led to more than 2 million deaths worldwide. At the same time, a feverish war is raging among the major powers over the distribution of scarce cures, including the question of how the so-called “developing countries” are to be blackmailed with access to the vaccine in the future.

A rational and democratic way out of the global coronavirus crisis is only possible if workers resolutely confront the government’s attempts at division. The Socialist Equality Parties and their youth and student organisation, the IYSSE, are fighting to build independent action committees to prepare a general strike for a real lockdown. Schools and nonessential businesses must be closed to stop the mass deaths and defeat the pandemic.

All workers and their families must receive full compensation and real financial support. Billions must be invested in safe, high-quality education and health care. To achieve these demands, an international movement must be built that is independent of all the establishment parties and trade unions. The government policy of mass death, exploitation and social cuts must be opposed by a socialist programme that places human lives above profits and overrides the private profit interests of the capitalist oligarchy.


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