Names marked with an asterisk * have been changed to protect identities.
Berlin, Germany Liz Meier *, now 56, was a young mother when her two-year-old son Matthias * received the triple vaccine against pumpkins, measles and rubella.
But the sting, made compulsory last year for school-going children in Germany, did not respond well. Matthias was left with severe disabilities that still shape his and his family’s lives, decades later.
“I trusted the vaccine, but then my son became very ill and almost died. “Since then he has been living with physical disabilities and my fate has been determined by this,” Meier told Al Jazeera, from her home in Frankfurt, central Germany.
Meier was not vaccinated against COVID, a position to which she says she is committed.
If Germany does a vaccine mandate next year, a move being discussed, she will consider leaving the country.
“I did a lot of research on vaccines after what happened, and given this knowledge and my history, how can I trust these COVID vaccines? I know many people who have already left Germany. I do not hope it comes to that, and that the mandate does not come into effect, but if it does, I will examine my options. “
Meanwhile, the semi-retired writer and translator says she has limited her social life.
“Before, only a free test was needed to go swimming, so every time I went, I did it. Then the rules changed to a PCR test, which would cost me about 300 euros [$340] a week. It is clear that they want to exclude us through these measures.
“We can sit outside certain places, but it always feels like you do not have the permission to exist in the same way as those who have been vaccinated.”
In November, Austria announced that everyone living in the country will be vaccinated from February next year.
Those who do not comply will face hefty fines of up to 3,600 euros ($ 4,100) every three months.
With almost 70 percent of the population vaccinated, Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. Those who refuse sampling have been placed under lock-in and are currently banned from entering all non-essential public spaces, such as cafes, gyms and libraries.
Similar rules apply in Germany, where new chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he supports the vaccine mandate proposal.
Official figures show that about 70 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and nearly 30 percent have received a booster shot.
Those who remain unvaccinated say their voices, concerns and experiences are not heard. The latest measures and proposed mandates, they add, have a significant impact on their emotional, physical and mental well-being.
Keysha *, a 39-year-old Londoner living in Berlin, said her family stopped immunizing when she was younger. As a person of mixed heritage living with disabilities, she feels uncomfortable about the current climate.
“It was hard to see people laughing and enjoying themselves in cafes when I was not allowed in,” Keysha said. “People enjoy it. There is something non-human to the whole situation.
“To be excluded in this way over the past few months has unleashed my existing anxiety. And it created great upheavals in my family, which affected our lives and my relationship. I had tearful, panicked moments, and at the same time I felt that it was just another thing beyond the usual exclusions that we had to deal with. “
Keysha, a Berlin resident for more than 10 years who has been working in the creative industry and on diversity issues, said the pandemic has heightened a sense of homesickness.
She did not rule out her return to the UK.
“I feel less comfortable, more anxious and more excluded from being here. “There is only one dominant discourse at the moment,” she said.
Nat A, a 35-year-old railway manager in Vienna, said he did not know what he would do if the mandate came into effect.
“The only thing I do not want to do is be vaccinated just to get my freedom back,” he said.
“I am generally just sorry that there is such a war between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, without there being any respect for the other opinion. I would take the vaccine if it feels safe, but at the moment I do not want to be vaccinated because my feeling is that the vaccines have not been tested enough. Maybe my opinion will change in the future, but who knows. ”
While scientists almost unanimously support COVID vaccines as the best way to protect people from the virus, which has killed more than five million people worldwide – including 113,000 victims in Germany and more than 13,000 in Austria – civil liberties- organizations shared growing concern about how democratic freedoms have been curtailed by some governments in the pandemic.
Peter Klimek, associate professor at the Medical University of Vienna, told Al Jazeera: “Vaccines are by far the most essential tool we have to control the pandemic and the evolving situation with Omicron does not change at all, but rather emphasizes it again.
However, while vaccines are the most essential tool we have to control the pandemic, it becomes unlikely that vaccines alone will be enough in the long run and we may need to administer SARS-CoV-2 with multiple layers of protection, for example, tests, masks , long-term antiviral medication.
“If we now impose vaccine mandates, it must be clearly communicated so as not to harbor unrealistic expectations among the population about the way out of the pandemic.”
Back in Berlin, Keysha remains hesitant about the vaccine and makes comparisons to dark episodes in history.
“With Germany’s history, and colonial history in general, we know what happens when you go in the direction of governing bodies.
“My hope is that the history books will show that we went through a strange time and there were plans to bring in a law to vaccinate people, but then we saw sense and it overturned.”
For Meier, in Frankfurt, her confidence in officials continues to decline.
“It was really difficult to trust the government during the pandemic, but hope dies last. So I keep hoping that they will not go through with this and that we can create another vision for our future, in a more collective way. ”