The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, is expected to be approved by the EU on Friday.
The EU is also facing delays with supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
What does this mean for Austria?
It is now possible Austria will receive around 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 rather than two million as originally announced by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in mid-January, Der Standard reports.
Under Austria’s three-phase vaccination scheme, people in “risk groups” for coronavirus are being given priority in vaccinations.
Austrian health authorities revealed the details of the three-stage plan at a press conference in late November.
At the end of December, federal authorities gave an overview of how the plan is likely to work – and who will be vaccinated first.
The first vaccinations were administered in Austria on December 27th, with an 84-year-old woman in Vienna being the first to get vaccinated.
The mass vaccinations were then planned to come in three waves from January.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Health Minister Rudi Anschober. photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
Who gets vaccinated first?
Phase one, which kicked off in January of 2021, targeted people over the age of 65, “especially those in retirement and old age homes”.
Phase one also means staff in nursing homes are being vaccinated.
It was previously believed with one million doses of the vaccine likely to be available, this phase would see 500,000 people vaccinated – as each person needs to receive the vaccine twice, with each dose given at least 21 days apart.
However, the reduction in vaccine supplies from Pfizer-BioNTech is already causing problems in Austria.
Health Minister Anschober told Der Standard on Wednesday that over 80s will not be vaccinated by March. Vienna Councillor for Health Peter Hacker also said it will take until the end of February to vaccinate all residents of Viennese nursing homes, rather than mid February as previously planned.
On 28th January Austria’s corona vaccination dashboard showed almost 200,000 doses had been delivered so far.
Phase two, which was expected to start in February 2021, will see health workers and people in other vulnerable categories vaccinated.
However the Wiener Zeitung says as Austria is particularly reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, this will have an impact on the second phase of the vaccination plan for key workers. Among those directly affected by the shortage will be those working in kindergartens and around 120,000 teachers.
Other people in so-called “systemically relevant” professions were also due to be vaccinated as part of this phase.
Der Standard previously reported this also included police officers, employees in the food industry, transport companies and others.
It is unclear if now the vaccine will become available to the general public in April as part of phase three.
Some states however have already started their vaccination drives, with Vienna opening its registration system to the general public. More information is available here.
Who is considered at risk of coronavirus?
Prior to the rollout of the vaccine, Austria passed the ‘Risk Group Ordinance’ which laid out who was deemed to be at a high-risk from coronavirus and could thereby be given priority access to the vaccine.
Those in the risk group are defined as people over 65, along with people with advanced chronic lung diseases, chronic heart diseases resulting in organ damage and certain cancer patients.
According to the Austrian government “all medical high-risk groups will immediately be invited to get a vaccination by their regular doctors or outpatient clinics”.
From 1 February also people over the age of 65 in the Covid-19 risk group can obtain a prescription, as well as people in 24-hour care, their carers and people who live with them in the same household and people who live in the same household with a pregnant woman.
The new ordinance also stipulates vaccinations can also be carried out on all other people with health insurance or their relatives entitled to benefits, provided that sufficient vaccine is available and it cannot be used by higher risk people within the shelf life period.
The selection should be made by the doctor on the basis of disease and infection risk.
According to official government advice issued on January 1st, 2021, people should be registered with the social security system as being members of a risk group.
Those who have not registered their condition with the social security system should begin the process of doing so.
However, the government confirmed that individuals with confirmation of risk status from a private doctor will also classify as ‘high risk’ and qualify for priority vaccination.
Please speak with your doctor as soon as possible about your condition and when vaccination will be available for you.
Why were nursing homes prioritised?
Austria’s prioritisation of nursing home residents has meant that some people – including those with serious conditions placing them at a high risk – will need to wait longer to receive a vaccine.
The Austrian government acknowledged this, saying that “at the beginning of January there were not enough vaccines available to vaccinate all people at the same time, (therefore) all residents in old people's and nursing homes and their employees are vaccinated first.”
“This is where the risk of getting seriously ill from a COVID infection and possibly even dying is greatest. This decision is based on medical and technical considerations.”
More information about the ‘medical and technical’ considerations can be found at the following link (pdf in German).
How can I find out more?
For specific questions, you can call Austria's vaccination hotline seven days a week, 24-hours a day on 0800/555 621.
General information and FAQs are also available at the following link.
Note: As with all of our coronavirus-related guides, this is intended as advice only. It does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please speak with your doctor about your options.