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AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A round-up of the latest news on Thursday

Find out what's going on in Austria today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

An example of a coronavirus vaccination passport.
Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

Chancellor Kurz will propose a vaccination passport at an EU summit 

Sebastian Kurz wants to propose a “Green Passport” vaccine and test certificate modelled on Israel’s at Thursday’s EU summit.

According to Wiener Zeitung newspaper Greece supports the proposal along with Bulgaria. Kurz told journalists the certificate could bring freedom of travel back within the European Union.

He said he had spoken to numerous EU counterparts as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about it. However, the opposition FPÖ party in Austria said Kurz wanted to bring in surveillance for Austrians with “compulsory testing, compulsory vaccination and compulsory labelling”. 

Kurz in Israel to talk about vaccine production 

Chancellor Kurz and Danish PM Frederiksen are meeting today in Israel for talks with government representatives about the Israeli Covid-19 vaccination strategy and possible future vaccine production.

Sharon Alroy-Preis of the Israeli Ministry of Health told the Wiener Zeitung newspaper that Israel was a major biotech location and the country has an excellent reputation as a home for start-ups. He said: “All of these make us an excellent location for vaccine production.”

Vienna to start giving AstraZeneca vaccine to over 65s. 

Vienna’s City Councillor for Health Peter Hacker has announced he will be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to over 65s in Austria’s capital over the next few weeks.

He expressed “incomprehension” on Wednesday in a press conference about the vaccination board’s decision to continue to advise the vaccine be given to younger people

Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt, the scientific director of the National Vaccination Committee, thinks the Viennese approach is “by no means wrong”, Wiener Zeitung reports. 

Women are paid less than men in Austria

Statistics Austria figures showing the wage gap between men and women in Austria is only slowly closing. In 2019, women in Austria earned 19.9 percent less per hour than men in the private sector. According to Wiener Zietung newspaper in an EU comparison, Austria is still well above the European average of 14.1 percent.

Were ‘Austrian’ masks made in China?

Local mask manufacturer Hygiene Austria’s government contract is now on hold following a raid, according to Der Standard. The company was formed in spring 2020 with the stated aim of manufacturing face masks in Austria, rather than relying on imports from overseas.

Investigators now suspect that Hygiene Austria imported FFP2 masks from China and then had them relabelled “Made in Austria” with the help of illegal workers.

The company has links to the government, as the managing director of Hygiene Austria, Tino Wieser, is related by marriage to the office manager of Kurz.

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Will Austria start vaccinating children against Covid?

The European Medicine Agency (EMA) is expected to approve the Biontech and Pfizer vaccine for everyone over 12 years old on Friday, but it will be up to individual European states such as Austria to decide if they wish to start vaccinating children. 

Children in the US are already receiving vaccinations against the coronavirus (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)
Children in the US are already receiving vaccinations against the coronavirus (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Austria’s Ministry of Health has advised that children should be vaccinated once the EMA approves the vaccine, with the country’s health minister Wolfgang Mückstein telling Der Standard newspaper, that if the vaccine was approved by the EMA, it meant it was “highly effective and safe”.

“I would also vaccinate my daughters with it,” he is reported to have said.

He also announced on Friday he wanted to vaccinated the largest possible number of children aged between twelve and 16 by the end of August.

Pediatrician Albrecht Prieler, who is a member of Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) said it was important children should be protected with a Covid-19 vaccination as soon as possible. He said even if if Covid-19 was usually milder in children, there was still a “residual risk” of a severe course, adding without vaccinating children it will “never be possible” to achieve herd immunity, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

Vaccine hesitancy may affect rollout

This would mean an additional 340,000 young people could be eligible for vaccination in Austria. But how easy will it be to persuade this group and their parents, that vaccination is the best option?

One stumbling block to vaccinating most children aged over 12 may be vaccine scepticism amount the Austrian population. While a recent survey by the University of Vienna found that the willingness to vaccinate had increased during 2021, Der Standard newspaper noted Austrians are not the biggest advocates of vaccinations, especially when it comes to children. 

More concerns over vaccines for children in Austria

The Wellcome Global Monitor study in 2018 showed Austrians often rejected statements such as “vaccinations for children are safe” (rejection rate 22 percent) or “it is important that children are vaccinated” (rejection rate 12 percent).

In neighbouring Germany,  Health Minister Jens Spahn has stated that he intends to offer vaccines to younger children.

Vienna already allows children aged 12 and over to register for a coronavirus vaccination. In the capital vaccinations are expected to start for children in June. In Styria, vaccinations for this group will be offered in July and August, supplies permitting. Tyrol and Vorarlberg have also pledged to vaccinate children at some point “during the summer” 

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