Pastors in eastern Germany push for shots despite protests

CHEMNITZ (Germany) -- A pastor opened the wrought iron doors of St. Petri Church in Chemnitz, Germany. He sighed in relief as he saw the long line waiting for shots against coronavirus.

Pastors in eastern Germany push for shots despite protests

The Rev. Christoph Herbst invited a relief organization as well as volunteer doctors to run a Sunday vaccination clinic at Lutheran Church. The pastor was aware that the act of community outreach might not be well received in a region of Germany that is prone to vaccination resistance and sometimes violent protests.

Herbst admitted that he was unsure how people would respond to his offer as he welcomed them into his neoGothic house for prayer. "There are many very diverse and very polarized opinions in our region about the coronavirus measures, how to combat the pandemic and, especially, about vaccinations.

Saxony, the state where Chemnitz is located and the city of Dresden, has one of the highest COVID-19 rates and lowest vaccination rates among Germany's 16 federal countries. Only 60% of the population had been fully vaccinated by Christmas compared to the national average of 70%. Local hospitals had to transfer patients from state at times during the pandemic because there were not enough beds for intensive care.

Saxony's Lutheran pastors have used their sermons in order to promote vaccinations as the best way to avoid severe illness and end the pandemic. Many opened their churches to provide clinics for this month like Herbst. They hoped that offering jabs in an environment familiar and without registration would persuade some skeptics.

Herbst stated, "We believe we have a responsibility beyond ourselves and that we should do some good for society with what resources we have." "We are not professionals and doctors. We have the space, and volunteers can help us organize this.

Chemnitz is a city with approximately 247,000 inhabitants. It was once known as Karl-Marx-Stadt during the time it and the rest Saxony belonged to the former communist East Germany. Herbst reports that many local vaccine refusers cite concerns about possible side effects and feel overwhelmed by the pressure they feel from authorities. They also object to any government-endorsed measures.

Hannelore Hilbert and Bernd Hilbert, who are a retired couple from Amtsberg, were among those who sat patiently in a pew while they waited to get their hands on Herbst's church. The Hilberts brought them to get booster shots for their five grandchildren, who are too young to have been vaccinated. They hoped to see them at Christmas.

"Last Christmas was really difficult. Hannelore Hilbert (70) said, "We were all alone."

"We're thankful for the church offering these shots," said her husband of 72 years, who added that they had tried unsuccessfully to get shots at a hospital just a few days before.

On Sunday, the vast majority of church vaccine recipients had more in common than the community members who were skeptical or scared.

18 of the 251 vaccines given during St. Petri’s daylong clinic were administered to patients who received their first dose. They refused to talk to The Associated Press about their decision to change their minds after they decided to get shots nearly one year into Germany’s mass immunization campaign.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a large number of Germans have opposed any anti-virus measures. In response to the new wave of infections, the resistance has grown more aggressive and angrier since the National Parliament passed a vaccine mandate this month for certain professions.

Anti-vaccine activists have been protesting the ban on mass demonstrations in many parts of the country because of the pandemic. They are taking part in "walks", which are unauthorised marches that were quickly organized via social media. A total of 30 protestors gathered with torchlights outside the residence of Petra Koepping, Saxony's state health minister. They shouted slurs until police arrived.

Recent protests have seen a rise in numbers, drawing sometimes thousands of people. Police arrested several people for attacking journalists and officers. For their efforts to promote vaccination, some Lutheran pastors were criticised and threatened with death.

Herbst stated that he believes the majority of Saxons support the country's immunization campaigns and that far-right groups bent on undermining democracy in Germany have coopted antivaccine sentiment. This is fueling a sense of displacement among residents of Germany’s east 30 years after Germany's reunification.

The pastor responds to parishioners who confront him about their opposition to vaccinations by saying that he listens rather than judge.

He said, "And I listen things that are sometimes hard to hear." "I also listen things that I believe belong in the realm conspiracy theories. These are not confirmed by me. It's important to have a place where we can listen to one another without condemnation.

The pastor asks, however, if all arguments in favor and against vaccination are being exchanged at this point and if the decision to get immunized should no longer be left up to the individual.

Herbst stated that there are some who believe that a democratically-legitimized decision by parliament is required on a general vaccine mandate. "That decision would not be made on moral pressure but on the basis of a set rules that apply to everyone.

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