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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Immunity: How long are vaccinations valid for in Austria?

Austria’s rules for immunity from vaccination and recovery differ from most European countries. Here’s what you need to know.

Immunity: How long are vaccinations valid for in Austria?
How long are vaccinations valid for in Austria? Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

One aspect of the science which is as yet unclear about Covid vaccines is how long the immunity lasts. 

While each of the vaccines that is being administered in Austria has been shown to be highly effective against both the original incarnation of the virus and subsequent mutations, experts are uncertain as to the duration of immunity – primarily because not enough time has passed to see just how long the antibodies last. 

Austria has taken a relatively novel approach with regard to immunity from both vaccines and recovery. 

In addition to those who test negative, those who have recovered from the virus and who have been vaccinated are deemed ‘immune’ and are therefore allowed certain privileges such as visiting restaurants and travelling internationally. 

The duration of this immunity as per Austrian regulations is laid out below. 

Immunity via recovery

Unlike many other European countries, Austria lets you take an antibody test to determine if you are immune to the virus. 

If you take an antibody test which shows you have immunity to the virus, that will be valid for three months from the date of the test. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s Covid-19 immunity card and how do I get it?

If you have a medical certificate from the time you were diagnosed with Covid-19, then this will be valid for six months. 

If you have recovered from the virus and have also had one vaccination, your immunity is deemed to last until 270 days (or approximately nine months) after your shot. 

Immunity via vaccination

Obviously the best way to guarantee immunity to the virus is through vaccination. 

Here Austria also charts a relatively novel course again by allowing immunity after your first vaccine. Please note, this is set to change as of August 15th, where you will require two shots in order to be considered immune. 

Most European countries only allow this a few weeks after your second jab. 

In Austria, you are deemed to have immunity 22 days after your first shot of any type of the vaccine. In the case of Johnson and Johnson, which is a one-shot vaccine, you get immunity 22 days after your only shot. 

If this is a two-shot vaccine – i.e. Moderna, Biontech/Pfizer and AstraZeneca – you will be deemed to have immunity for 90 days after your first shot. 

READ MORE: Austria’s ban on British arrivals extended until September

This usually will not be a problem as the recommended time between doses is less than 90 days for all of these vaccines. 

After your second shot, the immunity is deemed to last 270 days, or approximately nine months. 

In the case of Johnson and Johnson, the 270-day period applies after the first (and therefore only) shot. 

If you have recovered from the virus and have also had one vaccination, your immunity is deemed to last until 270 days (or approximately nine months) after your shot. 

This is slightly shorter than in other countries, such as neighbouring Switzerland, where the immunity is deemed to last for a year. 

More information about the specifics of immunity in Austria can be found at the following official government link (in German). 

Which vaccines are accepted in Austria? 

You must have been vaccinated with an EMA approved vaccine or one approved from the WHO.

The WHO approval requirement is also relatively rare in Europe, as it means vaccines from more manufacturers are accepted. This includes: 

Comirnaty (BioNtech/Pfizer), Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca, and Covishield from Serum Institute of India COVID-19, Vaccine Janssen from Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Moderna, Sinopharm SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (Vero Cell), Inactivated (InCoV) and Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine, SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (Vero Cell), Inactivated.