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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Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

Austria's national vaccination board changed the recommendations for when to get the fourth dose of coronavirus vaccines. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

Over this weekend, Austria’s national vaccination board (NIG) released an updated recommendation on Covid-19 immunisation, changing its previous guidance for the fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccination slightly.

According to the NIG, booster vaccinations can be given to persons aged 12 years and older and are recommended for anyone who wants to protect themselves.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the new adapted Covid-19 vaccine in Austria

In particular, the 4th vaccination is advised for persons over 60 years of age, persons at risk of severe disease progression (including pregnant women) and persons with an increased risk of exposure (healthcare workers, people in long-term nursing or care facilities, etc.).

The recommended interval between the third and fourth doses is from six months for people between 12 and 59 years old, NIG said. For those over 60 or risk patients, that interval is from 4 months.

What has changed then?

The main difference is the recommendation for those who have had a Covid-19 infection after their third shot.

“An infection in vaccinated persons usually leads to a booster effect (hybrid immunity), which can affect the optimal timing of the next vaccination.”, NIG said.

However, the board specified that infection could only be “counted” after it was confirmed with a PCR test.

READ ALSO: Austria announces new Covid-19 vaccination campaign

So, if you have had a PCR-confirmed infection after your second or third shot and it was an asymptomatic case, you may follow the regular vaccination scheme. However, you can also postpone your vaccination for up to six months.

If you had a symptomatic case, you may postpone your next dose for up to six months only if you are younger than 60 and not of a risk group.

NIG said: “Persons vaccinated three times who have also had a proven omicron infection show a good booster response and cross-immunity”.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

It added: In such cases, especially in persons under 60 years of age, the 4th vaccination within a period of up to 6 months does not achieve any further improvement in immune protection and thus, the 4th vaccination can be postponed accordingly.