‘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.

‘Education, not obligation’: How Austria plans to tackle vaccine sceptics
Photo: Daniel ROLAND / AFP

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’. 

READ: What kind of post-Christmas lockdown will Austria announce?

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. 


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EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.