All of Austria’s political parties, except the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) which opposes vaccination, voted in favour of the move, decided by the health select committee following a heated debate on Thursday.
The new regulation also confirmed that vaccinations against Covid-19 will continue to be free for residents until at least June 30th 2022, extending this by six months.
Booster doses will also be covered by the state, and will be recommended to all residents from six months after their second dose, something which is already the case for people aged over 65 and members of risk groups.
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Social insurance providers will be required to send a letter to people who by November 1st have not received a vaccine, except for children under 12. The letter will inform people of the higher risk to unvaccinated people of serious illness from Covid-19, and remind them of the possibility to get vaccinated free of charge.
FPÖ parliamentarian Rosa Ecker argued that the letter was an imposition on the autonomy of the health insurance providers.
Less than 66 percent of Austria’s total population had received at least one vaccine dose by October 29th. Although some people are not recommended the vaccine due to their age (if under 12) or medical reasons, that still means slightly more than a quarter of the eligible vaccination has not had the jab.
Data from the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, which compiles coronavirus statistics, shows that 90 percent of symptomatic cases of Covid-19 in Austria occur in unvaccinated people.
A report from Austria’s Health Ministry shows that the cost of Covid testing (€187.67 million) has been higher than the cost of the vaccination programme (€167.94 million).
In the select committee, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein rebutted requests from the FPÖ to consider alternative medicines in the fight against the virus, including drugs which have led to poisoning in the USA.
The other opposition parties, the centre-left SPÖ and the centrist NEOS called on the FPÖ not to let scientific disinformation weaken legitimate criticism of the government, while the Green Party argued that some of the success of the Nordic countries in their Covid measures can be attributed to how governments and opposition parties have worked together to share a common message to the population.