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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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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

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The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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