What do we know about Austria’s vaccine sceptics?

Women in Austria are more likely to be sceptical of the Covid vaccine than men, while there are clear geographical differences in attitudes to the jab.

What do we know about Austria’s vaccine sceptics?
A coronavirus protest in Austria. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

After a slow initial rollout due to a lack of supply, Austria’s vaccination campaign has hit a new hurdle – vaccine scepticism. 

Experts believe more than 80 to 85 percent of people need to be vaccinated in order to reach ‘herd immunity’, which would hamper community spread and protect those who are unable to get the vaccine due to medical reasons. 

READ MORE: Thousands turn out for Vienna anti-lockdown protest

However, vaccine scepticism has brought the chances of reaching this figure into doubt. 

In total, just 74 percent of Austrians have indicated they are willing to be vaccinated, a Gallup poll conducted in late July found. 

This figure includes those who have already had one or both vaccines, along with those who have not yet been vaccinated but intend to do so. 

Of the 26 percent who have indicated they are unwilling, 15 percent have said they will definitely not get the vaccine, while nine percent have indicated they will probably not get it. 

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

This figure is reduced slightly from the corresponding figure in November 2020, where around 30 percent of people indicated they were sceptical of the vaccine and would not get it. 

Who is unwilling to be vaccinated? 

There is a regional variance when it comes to being sceptical of the vaccine in Austria. 

In the states of Salzburg and Upper Austria, the percentage of vaccine sceptics is around one third of the population. 

There is also variance when it comes to gender in Austria, with more women than men being sceptical of the vaccine. 

A study from the Austria Corona Panel Project at the University of Vienna released in early August also found that 15 percent of Austrians refused to get the vaccine. 

READ MORE: Vienna coronavirus protesters ‘tried to storm and occupy Austrian Parliament’

In the study, 23 percent of women indicated they were sceptical, compared with only 18 percent of men. 

Katharina T. Paul, one of the scientists who completed the survey, said the reason for this was a greater degree of concern – primarily due to women being a target for misinformation. 

Paul said false information had circulated surrounding the impact of the vaccine on fertility, while women tend to be impacted more often by actual side effects of the vaccine such as thrombosis. 

The authors also said that women were more likely to be sceptical of the vaccine as they tended to make decisions regarding whether their children would be vaccinated. 

“Being confronted with this decision has something to do with having a critical attitude to the vaccination.”

The authors however said that despite the higher proportion of scepticism among women, they were more likely to change their mind on vaccines than men when presented facts about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. 

Currently, around 54 percent of people are fully vaccinated in Austria – two percent higher than the European Union average. A further six percent of people have had one dose of the vaccine. 

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Austria formally scraps mandatory Covid vaccination law

Just months after announcing mandatory nationwide Covid vaccinations under threats of financial penalties, Austria has unanimously decided to scrap the law.

Austria formally scraps mandatory Covid vaccination law

Austria’s National Council unanimously decided to repeal the vaccination obligation law and associated regulations, the Parliament said on Thursday. 

In making the announcement, the ÖVP and Greens coalition stated that the lifting is in no way intended to reduce the relevance of the vaccination’s contribution to managing the pandemic, particularly concerning lowering the impact of severe courses of the disease. 

They continue to incentivise people to get the vaccines, but now there is no legal obligation.

End of the road for controversial mandate

The controversial measure was announced late in 2021 and had been put into effect in February, with penalties for non-compliance to be introduced in March. 

The laws included a set of regulations allowing police to check people’s vaccinated status. Those that could not prove they were either vaccinated, or recently recovered from the disease, would have to pay a fine.

Before these penalties were introduced however, the law was suspended until August. 

At the time, the government said the suspension was due to the combined impact of the lower virulence of the Omicron variant and the impact of widespread vaccination coverage across the country. 

“The omicron variant changed the situation”, health minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said at the time. 

He added that the law was introduced in a different context and was supported by “a clear majority” at the time when hospitals were full and “intensive care units were on the limit”.

The minister said that the new variant has reduced the effectiveness of vaccination against infections and has caused less severe courses of the disease.

“Even people who are willing to vaccinate in principle are now more difficult to convince of the need for a third dose”.

Rauch said the obligation to vaccinate did not increase the take up of the Covid jab. Instead, it “opened deep trenches in Austrian society”, according to the minister.