One year on: Covid-19 vaccination rate in Austria hits 70 percent

The number of fully vaccinated people in Austria has reached 70 percent, one year since the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered.

Medical staff wait to vaccinate people against Covid-19 in Vienna, Austria on November 15, 2021. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP
Demand for vaccines is on the rise again in Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

In the past week, Austria has hit a Covid-19 vaccination milestone – 70 percent of the total population has now received two doses of the vaccine.

According to figures from the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), this means 74.02 percent of the eligible population (aged five and above for whom Covid vaccinations are approved) is now protected.

And, as of December 27th 2021, 77.63 percent of the eligible population has received at least one dose, so the number of fully vaccinated people is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

READ MORE: Where to find the latest Covid-19 information for your region of Austria

Currently, Burgenland is the most heavily vaccinated federal state at 75.6 percent, and Upper Austria is the least vaccinated state at 66 percent.

Third doses, or booster shots, are now available for those that have already received two doses of the vaccine (a minimum of three months prior).

A year of Covid-19 vaccinations in Austria

The vaccination roll out started in Austria on December 27th 2020, with the first doses administered to residents and staff in retirement and nursing homes.

In early 2021, health workers and people in vulnerable categories were called up for vaccination, before it was made available to the general public in April.

FOR MEMBERS: What will happen with the pandemic in Austria in 2022?

At the time of the announcement of the first vaccinations last year, then-Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) described the step as a “turnaround in the fight against the pandemic”.

However, a year ago the Austrian federal government was focused on educating the population about the benefits of getting vaccinated against Covid-19, as opposed to making vaccination mandatory.

This approach has since changed due to plateauing vaccination figures and high Covid-19 case numbers in recent months, and the government is now planning to introduce a mandatory vaccination measure (Impfpflicht) in 2022.

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Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria's federal government on Thursday announced it would scrap its controversial mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law.

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria will cancel its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law, the federal government announced during a press conference on Thursday.

The controversial law had been suspended until August after coronavirus infection rates slowed. However, it hadn’t been abolished.

The government could still bring back a set of regulations allowing police to check people’s vaccinated status. Those that could not prove they were either vaccinated, or recently recovered from the disease, would have to pay a fine.

“The omicron variant changed the situation”, health minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

He added that the law was introduced in a different context and was supported by “a clear majority” at the time when hospitals were full and “intensive care units were on the limit”.

The minister said that the new variant has reduced the effectiveness of vaccination against infections and has caused less severe courses of the disease.

“Even people who are willing to vaccinate in principle are now more difficult to convince of the need for a third dose”.

Rauch said the obligation to vaccinate did not increase the take up of the Covid jab. Instead, it “opened deep trenches in Austrian society”, according to the minister.

The controversial law provoked numerous street protests throughout Austria after it was announced.

The minister said that the obligation itself even made some give up on their intent to get the jab.

Living with Covid

The new variants bring a new scenario to Austria and people will need to learn to coexist with the virus, according to the health minister.

“Living with Covid means that we will bring forward a comprehensive package of measures, and today that means the abolition of compulsory vaccination,” Rauch said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

The minister reiterated that vaccination is essential, especially as it helps prevent hospitalisations and more severe disease courses. He added that there should be an extensive vaccination campaign before Autumn and an expected winter Covid-19 wave.

Currently, about 62 percent of the Austrian population has a valid vaccination certificate. However, the number has decreased as people fail to schedule booster, or a third-dose, appointments.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining vaccines and the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.