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VACCINATION

EXPLAINED: Can you choose which Covid-19 vaccine to take in Austria?

With three vaccines already being administered and more on the way, is it possible to choose which jab you want in Austria?

A man waits to be vaccinated at a vaccine centre in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
A man waits to be vaccinated at a vaccine centre in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Despite a worldwide scarcity of supply, some countries allow residents to choose which vaccine they want to take. 

In Austria however, the official position is that choosing which vaccine you take is not currently possible – but this may change in the future, when vaccine stocks increase. 

Austria currently administers three vaccines: Biontech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Johnson and Johnson has been approved, however deliveries of the vaccine have been suspended by the manufacturer. 

What does the Johnson and Johnson suspension mean for Austria’s vaccination rollout?

The Austrian Health Ministry addresses the matter directly, saying that due mainly to availability “a free choice may not be possible, similar to what we know from seasonal flu vaccines”. 

The guidance does however point out that some vaccines are less likely to be administered by GPs due to the need to store them at incredibly cold temperatures. 

While Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech need to be stored in special freezers, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson do not. 

In March, a member of the Health Ministry told Austria’s Die Presse newspaper that allowing people to select vaccines will not be possible for “several months” due to a lack of supply. 

Officials do however believe that a choice of vaccine will be available at some point, unlike in some countries such as neighbouring Switzerland where authorities have ruled out allowing patients to choose at any point – even when supplies increase. 

In Austria, you are told of which vaccine you will get after you make your appointment. This can alternate on a day-to-day basis. 

While reports emerged of some people cancelling appointments when being offered a vaccine they didn’t want, some states have put in place rules which block or suspend people from rebooking a new appointment when they have cancelled one for “tactical reasons”. 

What about doctors and health workers? 

In February, it appeared that doctors and health workers had been given an option to choose the vaccine, according to a post on the website of the Austrian Medical Association (Österreichische Ärztekammer). 

However, Medical Association president Thomas Szekeres told Austria’s Kurier newspaper that this was an error and that no member of the medical profession would be permitted to choose which vaccine to take. 

Szekeres clarified that the post referred to the policy in place at that time which recommended AstraZeneca for under 65s only, indicating that people from different age groups may be given different vaccines. 

“There was no choice, a different approach is only provided according to age. That means, depending on age, you can either get the AstraZeneca vaccine up to 65 or the vaccine from Pfizer over the age of 65,” he said. 

According to the Vienna Medical Association, doctors and healthcare workers are not allowed to choose the vaccine “due to the limited availability of COVID-19 vaccines.”

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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