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COVID-19

Is the lockdown boosting Austria’s sluggish vaccination rate?

Austria's low vaccination rate has been partly blamed for the Autumn serge in infections but is the lockdown and threat of mandatory jabs having any impact?

Is the lockdown boosting Austria's sluggish vaccination rate?
Is the fourth national lockdown boosting Covid-19 vaccination rates in Austria? Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP.

Since Monday November 22nd, residents in Austria have been in lockdown for the fourth time since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020.

The Austrian Federal Government deemed the move necessary after case rates continued to rise and hospitals started filling up with Covid-19 patients – especially in the hard hit provinces of Salzburg and Upper Austria.

A reason for the explosion in cases had been put down to Austria’s low vaccination rate, which last week was one of the lowest in Europe as well as other factors such as the colder weather and the declining protection offered by the vaccines.

READ MORE: Austria bans flights from southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant

So is the lockdown working to encourage more people to get vaccinated? The data seems to suggest it is.

Covid-19 vaccination rates in Austria

On November 1st, figures show that 63.2 percent of the eligible population in Austria was fully vaccinated, 66.4 percent had received just one dose and 3.7 percent had the booster shot.

Fast forward to November 25th and 66 percent are fully vaccinated while 70.5 percent have had one dose and 17.7 percent have received the booster.

This is quite a significant increase in the first dose and booster shot figures.

READ ALSO: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

According to the Health Ministry, the number of vaccinations being administered in Austria in the past seven days (as of November 26th) is up by 17.7 percent on the previous week.

The chart below from Our World in Data suggests Austria’s vaccination rate has been sharply increasing since the start of November. Austria introduced a lockdown just for the unvaccinated on November 15th before extending it to the general population.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that in the past week Austria has administered around 10,000 Covid-19 vaccination doses every day. Two weeks ago that figure was estimated to be around 1,000 vaccinations a day.

However, Austria is still lagging behind its European neighbours, with Germany, Italy and France all registering a higher number of fully vaccinated people, as the chart below shows.

At the time of publication, none of these countries were in lockdown, although Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn was calling for “massive contract restrictions” after more than 76,000 new Covid infections were reported in one day.

As well as the national lockdown in Austria, the Federal Government also announced plans to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory from February 2022.

The announcement of Impfpflicht sparked protests in cities across Austria last weekend, but legal experts told The Local that compulsory vaccination is legally possible and likely to happen.

Will the lockdown and Impfpflicht be enough to tackle the fourth wave of Covid-19 in Austria? Only time will tell, but the data is showing a positive development so far.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Covid-19 in Austria: When should you get your fourth vaccine dose?

As Covid numbers increase in Austria, politicians and health experts are debating whether to recommend a fourth dose of the vaccine as soon as this summer.

Covid-19 in Austria: When should you get your fourth vaccine dose?

Austria has reported an increase in Covid infection numbers and a worrying upwards trend that has experts and authorities ​​considering if they should recommend a fourth dose of the vaccine earlier than the expected Autumn booster campaign.

Despite the number being nowhere near the almost 70,000 just 45 days ago, the recent upwards trend, when cases should be steady or decreasing over summer, is the main cause of concern.

Back in June, authorities were much more optimistic.

READ ALSO: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

“The number of new infections has fallen, as well as the number of people in hospitals due to Covid-19, for several weeks now. This is good news”, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said just as the Ministry announced it would “pause” the mandatory use of FFP2 masks.

The plan was to bring back the masks after summer – assuming the warm season would have fewer cases and less risk.

Rising Covid numbers

On Thursday, June 9th, Austria reported 5,144 coronavirus infections after 123,751 PCR tests were taken, according to the Health Ministry.

The previous week, there were 3,035 new infections (with 157,154 PCR tests taken).

There are currently 470 people in hospitals with Covid-19, and 39 people in intensive care units, according to the Ministry.

Just under 64 percent of the population has a valid vaccination document. The number keeps decreasing as vaccines expire, and many people don’t take their booster dose.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

The increase coincides with the removal of almost all coronavirus restrictions. In general, the only regulation still in place outside of the health sector is in Vienna, where people need to wear an FFp2 mask in public transport.

People who test positive also need to isolate for at least five days.

Will the fourth vaccine dose be recommended for everyone?

Austria’s GECKO crisis coordinator Katharina Reich and Health Minister Rauch are now calling for vulnerable people to get vaccinated in light of the rising number of corona cases.

“We won’t have any peace in the summer. There is no stability. Vulnerable groups should get vaccinated now and again in the autumn. Everyone else who has already been vaccinated three times should get boosters around eight weeks before the autumn wave,” Reich told Austrian media.

Currently, Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) has recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but only for those deemed at risk of serious illness.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: What should I do if my Austrian Green Pass is expiring

The NIG identifies risk groups as people over 80 and those between the ages of 65 and 79 with a weakened immune system or existing health conditions.

The committee is considering lowering the recommended age to 65, even for people with no other health conditions.

In Vienna, the fourth dose can already be given off-label to persons over the age of 65 or to anyone who wants to take it after a medical individual risk-benefit assessment.

Clinical pharmacologist Markus Zeitlinger, from MedUni Vienna, told Kurier that he believes anyone who wants maximum immune protection at all times should get a vaccination now – children excluded. He said since there will be a summer wave, people shouldn’t wait to get protected.

He said there is medically no reason not to get vaccinated in June, and then again as early as October. 

If you have had three vaccinations and had an infection confirmed by PCR test, then no further vaccination is currently recommended.

What is advised as numbers rise?

The virologist Dorothea van Laer from the University of Innsbruck has asked people to wear masks in summer, speaking to the ZIB2 programme.

She said it was particularly important for those in frequent contact with vulnerable people. She also advised people to get boosted if they hadn’t taken their third dose yet.

READ ALSO: Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate suspended until August

Van Laer also criticised the lack of knowledge about immunity in the population of Austria, stating:

“We don’t have a representative study on the contamination of the Austrian population. We don’t even know if we have a problem at all or if, like in England, 99 percent of people already have antibodies and a certain amount of protection against severe illness.”

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