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HEALTH

How to get the flu vaccine for free in Vienna this winter

If you live or work in Vienna, you can get a free vaccine against the flu this winter.

Woman getting a vaccine
The flu vaccine not only gives you protection but could potentially help ease pressure on Vienna's healthcare services. File photo: Gustavo Fring/Pexels

The City of Vienna is providing 450,000 free flu vaccinations this year in a bid to reduce demand on the health service during the winter months.

From November 2nd, people that live or work in Vienna will be able to access a free flu vaccination.

The City of Vienna is rolling out the winter campaign to support the city’s health service during the coming winter months as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. The campaign will run until March 31st 2021. 

Even people that live in another federal state can receive a free flu vaccination if they work or study in Vienna.

Children aged between six months and 15 years are already eligible for a free flu jab wherever they live in Austria, and other groups such as over-60s or healthcare staff are often eligible to get the vaccine for free, but in Vienna anyone can get the jab cost-free.

READER QUESTION: How do I get a flu vaccine in Austria?

In a Tweet, Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig said the free vaccinations are “part of the social services that guarantee everyone access to medical care and prevention in our city.”

Peter Hacker, City Councillor for Health, said: “Our healthcare system is still being challenged by the corona pandemic. In addition to self-protection, a flu vaccination is also an important contribution to protecting others and to keeping the burden on our hospitals and our healthcare system as low as possible.”

The Vienna Medical Association is expecting a strong flu season this year after a lull last winter due to the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions which limited the spread of flu as well.

READ MORE: Covid-19 in Austria: Follow the latest developments this week

Thomas Szekeres, President of the Vienna Medical Association, said: “Like Corona, the flu can be prevented by a vaccination. I therefore appeal to everyone – go to your family doctor, take your child to your paediatrician or to a vaccination centre and get vaccinated against the flu.”

Flu vaccinations will take place at 11 locations across the city, including doctor’s clinics, the Austria Centre Vienna and in nursing homes.

Vaccination appointments can be made online from October 25th 2021 at impfservice.wien or by calling 1450.

Vienna flu vaccination locations

1020 Vienna, Karmelitergasse 9, 1st floor                                       

1030 Vienna, Thomas-Klestil-Platz 8/2

1120 Vienna, Am Schöpfwerk 29/11 / R10

1150 Vienna, Gasgasse 8-10

1180 Vienna, Martinstraße 100, 1st floor

1210 Vienna, Wassermanngasse 7                               

1220 Vienna, Schrödingerplatz (entrance VHS)

1220 Vienna, Austria Center Vienna 

ÖGK:

1210 Vienna, Karl-Aschenbrenner-Gasse 3 (7.45am – 1.45pm)

1100 Vienna, Wienerbergstraße 15-19 (8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.)

KFA:

1210 Vienna, Franz-Jonas-Platz 8/1/2

Monday to Thursday from 8am to 3pm, and on Friday from 8am to 2pm.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.

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