Reader question: Will Austria make the coronavirus vaccine compulsory?

The Austrian government has repeatedly reiterated that the coronavirus vaccine would not be made compulsory.

Reader question: Will Austria make the coronavirus vaccine compulsory?
Photo: Will the coronavirus vaccine be compulsory in Austria? Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Ever since the early days of the pandemic, one question we have frequently been asked by our readers and members is whether the coronavirus vaccine would be made compulsory in Austria. 

As The Local Austria has reported on several occasions, the government has been emphatic in emphasising that the vaccine would remain voluntary since the outbreak of the pandemic. 

UPDATED: How can I get vaccinated for Covid-19 in Austria?

However, given the frequency with which we have been asked the question – and the persistent scepticism from a small minority of readers that the government would go back on its word – we thought it necessary to address the matter in a stand-alone article. 

Will Austria make the coronavirus vaccine compulsory? 

In 2020, before the vaccine rollout began in Austria, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober promised that compulsory vaccination was completely off the table. 

Instead, Anschober said the Austrian government would focus on an education campaign which informed people about the effectiveness, safety and benefit of the vaccine. 

‘Education, not obligation’: How Austria plans to tackle vaccine sceptics

On the Austrian government’s website, compulsory vaccination has been clearly ruled out

“There is no compulsory vaccination in Austria. The decision for or against a vaccination rests with each person or with the person who is responsible for the care and upbringing (of the vaccinated person).”

Rational decisions rather than emotional ones

While the Österreich impft (Austria vaccinates) campaign has come under some fire for failing to cater to Austria’s foreign population, the campaign has addressed many of the concerns surrounding the vaccine directly. 

Herwig Kollaritsch, a doctor and member of the Austrian Vaccination Committee, said at a press conference as the vaccination scheme was rolled out that the goal is to encourage people to make a rational decision rather than an emotional one regarding vaccines. 

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. 

According to the Austrian government, doctors will inform each and every patient about the nature of the vaccine and the coronavirus itself. 

“In order to be able to make the decision, information and clarification from the doctor is required. Before carrying out the vaccination, doctors must therefore inform the person being vaccinated ( or, before the age of 14, a parent or the person responsible for care and upbringing) about the disease to be prevented and the vaccination.”

Note: This piece was corrected on March 17th. Herwig Kollaritsch is a member rather than the head of the Austrian Vaccination committee. 

Member comments

  1. Compulsory really seems irrelevant wouldn’t you say? I wish it was then maybe, possibly, maybe there would be some Vaccine available. My contemporaries in UK had their vaccination 6 weeks ago………how’s it going in Europe?

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Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.