Tens of thousands protest Austria compulsory vaccination

Tens of thousands of Austrians rallied this weekend to protest against the government's introduction of compulsory vaccination -- the first EU country to do so -- as the chancellor insisted on Sunday that the move would represent "a minor interference" compared to the alternatives.

Demonstrators hold a banner which reads
Demonstrators hold a banner which reads "Control the borders - not your people" during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe on November 20th, 2021, to protest the introduction of the lockdown and mandatory jabs. JOE KLAMAR / AFP

One of the largest demonstrations was held in the southern city of Graz, where police said late Saturday that around 25,000 people had gathered in a rally that remained mostly peaceful.

But police said that three men in their early 20s were being investigated for allegedly making Nazi salutes and that there were dozens of infractions against virus-related rules on mask-wearing.

In an interview with the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said that the government had “sadly” been forced to turn to compulsory vaccination to bolster the current rate of full vaccination — which currently stands at just under 67 percent and is one of the lowest in Western Europe.

READ ALSO: Is the lockdown boosting Austria’s sluggish vaccination rate?

With the current rate “we will never get out of the vicious circle of new waves and new debates on lockdowns,” he said.

“Every lockdown is a heavy interference in fundamental rights. Compared to that, compulsory vaccination is a minor interference,” he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Impfpflicht’: How will Austria’s mandatory vaccination law work in practice?

Faced with rapidly rising case numbers, the government introduced a partial lockdown on Monday, although schools have remained open.

The below chart from Our World In Data shows the situation in Austria compared with some of its neighbours.

Other demonstrations on Saturday took place in the cities of Sankt Poelten and Klagenfurt, attracting around 3,500 and 5,000 people, respectively.

Eleven arrests were made in Sankt Poelten, most of them for “aggressive behaviour”. One police officer was injured.

The demonstration was organised by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), whose leader Herbert Kickl has been vocal in opposing anti-virus measures and in pushing unproven treatments for the virus.

The protest in Klagenfurt was addressed by the local head of the FPOe.

Also on Sunday, the finance ministry said that seizures of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin by customs officials had “exploded” in recent months.

Between September and mid-November, 15,844 tablets had been seized, the ministry said.

Ivermectin is one of several drugs which been pushed on social media as treatments for Covid-19, despite proving ineffective in multiple studies and trials and being potentially dangerous if administered incorrectly.

READ ALSO: Austria bans flights from southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant
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What to know about Austria’s new advice on Covid vaccines

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, each country developed its own vaccination recommendation, which often changed. Here is the new advice from the Austrian vaccination panel.

What to know about Austria's new advice on Covid vaccines

The Austrian National Vaccination Panel has updated its recommendations on Covid vaccination on several points, the Ministry of Health announced.

“Special attention continues to be paid to the completion of the basic immunisation, which is recommended for all persons five years of age and older, and to the booster vaccination,” according to the Ministry of Health.

The booster shot is generally available to all persons 12 years of age and older and is free of charge, but it is especially recommended for persons 60 years of age and older and those at risk.

READ ALSO: Masks against Covid and flu: What’s ahead for Austria this winter

In Austria, the basic immunisation against Covid-19 consists of three vaccine doses. A fourth dose, also known as a booster shot, is also recommended.

What is new in the recommendation?

Austria is adding a new coronavirus vaccine, from Sanofi (VidPrevtyn Beta), to the list of offers against the virus. The new vaccine is protein-based and has already been approved by the European authorities. 

In Austria, the Sanofi vaccine can be used from the third vaccination onwards on people older than 18. The offer will be available at the vaccination sites in the coming week at the earliest, according to the Ministry. 

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

Another change is that the variant Comirnaty Original/Omicron BA.4-5 from BioNTech/Pfizer will also be used for the third vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years. 

This vaccine is specially adapted to the virus variants Omicron BA.4 and 5. It is now available for children in a special application shot that should be in vaccination sites starting next week at the earliest. 

READ ALSO: What to expect from the ski season in Austria this winter

Also included in the recommendations is a clarification specifically on an additional booster vaccination (fifth vaccination). 

People at risk from the age of 18, and those from the age of 60 can receive the additional booster vaccination four months after the fourth vaccination. According to the vaccination panel, no fifth vaccination is necessary for healthy people under 60.