‘Education, not obligation’: How Austria plans to tackle vaccine sceptics
Austria has promised the coronavirus vaccination will not be compulsory, despite concern about a rising anti-vaccination movement in the country.
Austria’s first wave of coronavirus vaccinations is expected to take place just after Christmas.
In order for vaccinations to be effective in preventing the spread of a virus, a large proportion of the population needs to be vaccinated.
However Austrian health officials have promised that any coronavirus vaccine will not be made mandatory as a means to help the country reach ‘herd immunity’.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober has promised vaccinations will not be compulsory, while saying a hotline will be set up so that citizens can put “very old-fashioned frequently asked questions and the answers on the homepage of the Ministry of Health".
Instead, Austrian officials hope to educate the population about how safe the vaccine really is to allay fears that it might be dangerous.
Herwig Kollaritsch, a doctor who is the head of the Austrian Vaccination Committee, said at a press conference that the goal is to encourage people to make a rational decision rather than an emotional one.
‘Vaccination is the only way out (of the pandemic)’
While Kollaritsch said that no vaccine was 100 percent safe, each of the coronavirus vaccines which are currently being brought to market showed high levels of safety.
He also said the vaccinations were necessary despite these spread of the virus throughout the community as “we know that we have only infected 4.7 percent of the population, that is, over 95 percent are still susceptible to the virus”.
Kollaritsch also warned that the current coronavirus measures - including masks, social distancing and periodic lockdowns would stay “for years” unless a vaccine is rolled out in Austria.
"We will maintain this status for years if we do not want to risk huge numbers of infections, because the virus came to stay," said the doctor.
"Vaccination is currently the only way to fight the pandemic," he said. "In the current situation there are no other alternatives."
‘Victims of their own success’
“Vaccinations are victims of their own success,” Kollaritsch said. As vaccines have eradicated many diseases, people have less experience with serious disease and think that vaccines may in fact not be necessary.
Kollaritsch said it was necessary to be up front about the vaccine and how it works - as well as the potential for side effects.
While trials have shown that the vaccine is safe, there have been some side effects, Kollaritsch says.
The two side effects which have been recorded as part of the trials are headaches and fatigue which lasts for up to four days.
Kollaritsch said that such side effects are normal with vaccinations and people should not be concerned - however they should be informed of the potential for side effects so that they can make a call if the benefits outweigh the negatives.