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How does Austria’s booster jab campaign compare to other countries?

Woman gets vaccine
Booster doses are a normal part of vaccination rollouts to ensure long-term protection. How does Austria's strategy compare with the rest of Europe? Photo: CDC/Unsplash
Austria is recommending third doses of the Covid vaccine to everyone to compensate for the country's slow vaccine take-up. The Local's journalists across Europe take a look at the situation in eight countries to see how it compares.

The vaccines have been proven to be highly effective in reducing individuals’ risk of catching, spreading and falling seriously ill from Covid-19, but it is the case with many vaccines that their protective effect reduces over time and an extra dose is required.

How countries are managing booster doses varies and is influenced by factors such as take-up of the first doses, availability of resources, and the spread of the virus. 

Of the eight countries in our comparison (based on the countries covered by The Local), Austria is the only one offering third vaccine doses to the entire population. Here’s a closer look at how they stack up.

Austria

Here in Austria, booster doses were rolled out to people in at-risk groups and aged over 65 starting from late August.

As of November 3rd, everyone aged 12 and over is encouraged to get a third jab, and can do so as long as at least six months have passed since their second dose.

The vaccine you get depends on what your first and second doses were, and your age. For people under 30, the Pfizer jab is recommended. Over the age of 30, either Pfizer or a half-dose of the Moderna vaccine is also possible if you got one of the following: two doses of AstraZeneca; a first dose of AstraZeneca and a second dose of Moderna or Pfizer; or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna.

Those who have had the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccination are encouraged to get a second dose with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) at least 28 days after their shot, and a booster six months after this.

By November 9th, 476,375 people in Austria had had their third dose according to government data.

Austria has struggled to increase its vaccination rate compared to other Western European countries, as the Our World in Data chart below shows. This makes booster doses a particularly important part of the national strategy, as infection rates rise, because it increases the level of immunity among a population which has a low level of protection.

Germany 

Most German states began issuing booster shots in September with a focus on care home residents and staff, and the very elderly. At the moment, Germany’s standing vaccine commission (STIKO) generally recommends that all the over 70s, people in care, medical staff and those with pre-existing conditions should get a top-up mRNA Covid vaccine shot six months after their last dose. 

People who’ve had the vector vaccine AstraZeneca are also advised to get a booster shot, while people who’ve had the single-shot vector vaccine Johnson & Johnson should get an mRNA top-up anytime four weeks after their jab.
However, the outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that everyone in Germany – regardless of whether they belong to a risk group – should be able to get a booster shot six months after their last dose. He is also calling on local districts and doctors to inform the over 60s about the offer. 

The government has been slammed for the confusing messaging and the lack of a concrete nationwide booster jab campaign. 

Switzerland

Switzerland on October 26th announced that Covid booster shots would be administered from November 15th onwards. From November 15th, people in high risk categories and those over the age of 65 are recommended for a booster shot to improve their immunity. Specific risk group info is available here

In order to get a booster, you must have had your second shot at least six months ago.

Some people who are in very high risk categories have been getting booster shots in some Swiss cantons since August. This was however only done on an ad hoc basis and not as part of a widespread campaign – and was not offered in all cantons. Booster shots in Switzerland will count towards the country’s Covid certificate, after the government backtracked on a previous decision that the booster shots should not be entered into the certificate.

The government said it was initially worried that people would only get booster jabs in order to extend their certificates. 

As it stands, Covid certificates are valid for 12 months after the second shot, although the government has since indicated that this may be extended to 18 months in the future

France

France began its booster shot programme in September, but currently it is only open to certain groups.

Those who had their last vaccine dose more than six months ago and are also either over 65, a healthcare worker or someone in a high risk group (ie those with serious medical conditions) are now eligible for a booster. The booster campaign uses Pfizer’s vaccine.

Around 2.5 million people – out of an eligible population of 6.8 million – have already had their third dose. Those who got Covid after being vaccinated do not require a booster, the French government has ruled.

French president Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to make a TV appearance on Tuesday night and it is expected that vaccine boosters will be one of subjects he addresses – with questions over whether to extend the programme and whether to link it to the health pass or make it compulsory. 

At present vaccination is compulsory for health workers in France, but getting the booster is not, although they are encouraged to get it.

Spain

So far, Spain’s Health Ministry has only approved the Covid-19 booster vaccine for over 65s, immunocompromised people and care home residents.

Spain’s Covid booster vaccine campaign officially launched nationwide on October 25th, although some regions started earlier, which explains why Spanish health workers have already managed to administer 1 million booster doses.

In the majority of regions, people eligible for the Covid booster shot are also being offered a flu shot on their other arm, with Spain’s Health Ministry encouraging vulnerable people to get both jabs to avoid the serious risk that contracting both influenza and Covid-19 can pose to them.

So far, Pfizer and Moderna are the approved booster vaccines in Spain. These Messenger RNA inoculations will also be offered to people who received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine or the AstraZeneca vaccines. 

On Tuesday November 2nd, Spain’s Health Ministry agreed to reduce by half the dose of those given a Moderna booster shot. 

The country’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón has said he is against the idea of administering Covid-19 booster shots “in general” as “it seems that immunity lasts for years”, and opinion shared by other leading Spanish scientists who think it’s currently not necessary to offer a booster shot to younger adults.

Around 80 percent of Spain’s total population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the highest inoculation rates in the world.

Norway 

Norway began offering booster jabs to over 65s in October. The third dose is offered six months after the second jab for people who have received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or after the same period after one jab of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Janssen vaccine.

An mRNA vaccine, either Moderna or Pfizer, will be given to those who have had a Johnson & Johnson jab.

The municipalities in Norway handle the rollout of booster jabs. The priority system for who gets a booster first is the same as the regular vaccine program, with the oldest and most vulnerable being prioritised.

On November 4th, it was announced that frontline healthcare workers would also be offered a third Covid-19 vaccine. Currently, it isn’t clear when the rollout for healthcare workers would begin. However, Norway’s health minister has said plans on how the rollout would work were being drawn up by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the municipalities. 

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 91 percent of those over 18 have received one Covid-19 vaccine, and 86.6 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Sweden

Sweden started offering the third Covid-19 dose to people with severely weakened immune system in early September, and has since opened it up to more groups.

At the time of writing, everyone over the age of 65 can get a free booster shot, as well as people who work in elderly care. Sweden is expected to roll it out to healthcare workers next, and then step by step to the rest of the population in winter and spring – the Public Health Agency has come under fire for not including healthcare workers at an earlier stage.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency recommends that the third dose should be one of the mRNA vaccines, regardless of which vaccine was administered as the first or second dose. This means that someone who has already had AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine Vaxzevria will get Pfizer/Biontech’s Comirnaty or half a dose of Moderna’s Spikevax.

Italy

Italy began offering a third dose of a Covid vaccine to patients with suppressed immune systems, as well as cancer patients and transplant recipients, in late September. This was soon extended to care home workers and health professionals, and then to all people aged over 60.

The Italian health minister has said it is “most likely” that the rest of the population will be offered a free booster shot from January 2022, though no plans have been officially confirmed.

Only the two mRNA vaccines currently approved for use in the EU – that’s the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine and the Moderna Spikevax vaccine – will be used for the booster, according to the health ministry.

To date, almost 45 million people or 84 percent of the Italian population over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, and 1.6 million have already received booster shots, health ministry data shows.


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