Austria’s draft vaccine mandate law to be presented next week

Here's what we know about Austria's plans for making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, after the government held a press conference on Tuesday morning following a summit on the subject.

Austria's draft vaccine mandate law to be presented next week
A lot still remains unclear about how the mandate will work in practice after the government update. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

The government confirmed that the law making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory is set to come into effect from February 1st, with a first draft to be presented on December 6th to undergo a four-week review process.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein urged people in Austria not to wait until the law comes into force, but to get their vaccine as soon as possible.

“Yes, [the mandate] is in intrusion into fundamental rights and freedoms,” he acknowledged, saying that this was the reason the government is involving a wide range of people in their discussions on the law. He stressed that the law was “the only alternative”, given the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing serious illness and the currently low vaccination rate.

The details were shared at a press conference from Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler and Mückstein, following talks between the government, opposition parties SPÖ and NEOS, and experts, which the health minister called a “fruitful exchange”.

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

Edtstadler confirmed that such a mandate was not a violation of constitutional rights, if it can achieve the goal of protecting national health.

She apologised to members of the public who did not feel they had been “adequately informed” about the vaccine, and said there had been “failures” in this area.

More than 70 percent of Austria’s population has now had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but Mückstein said “from an epidemiological point of view, that is not enough” to avoid future lockdowns and pressure on Austrian healthcare.

Beyond confirmation of the timeline, there were few new details on Tuesday about how the law will work in practice, with both ministers stressing that more talks would be carried out with the opposition parties and relevant organisations and experts.

The ministers were asked from what age the mandate would begin, and Edtstadler said this would need to be discussed further before it was decided.

READ ALSO: When will Austria’s lockdown end?

She said that in any case, children in the Volkschule (primary school, usually aged between six and ten) would most likely not be affected by the mandate, and suggested that an age limit of 14 would be possible.

Edtstadler also refused to comment on the potential monetary amount of administrative fines for violations of the mandate, after reports in Austrian media that the amount was likely to be set at €3,600, which could be issued twice to make a total of €7,200.

A reporter also asked whether there was a possibility that if the vaccination rate improved, the law would not be introduced, to which Edtstadler replied: “We see the necessity of a vaccine mandate.”

The far-right Freedom Party was not involved in Tuesday’s discussions, and its leader Herbert Kickl on Tuesday described the government as “stupid and sadistic” in his first speech after being in quarantine for a Covid-19 infection.

The plans for a vaccine mandate have sparked protests across the country over the last two weekends, including some rallies organised by the Freedom Party.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s foreign residents feel about the pandemic response

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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.