How does Austria’s vaccine mandate compare to other countries?

Austria on Thursday became the first EU country to issue a vaccine mandate to all adults, but other countries in the bloc are also requiring the jab for certain age groups or professions, and further afield general mandates have been introduced.

Vaccine passes Ecuador
Vaccine passes are checked in Ecuador, one of few other countries to make Covid vaccination mandatory for all adults. Photo: Cristina Vega Rhor/AFP

Within Europe, Austria is an outlier, although a majority of EU countries use a vaccine pass or health pass to restrict the non-vaccinated from entry into venues such as restaurants, concerts and even shops.

These schemes have different names across Europe, but vary between health passes which allow holders to show a negative test result to gain entry and vaccine passes for which only vaccination proof (and in some cases proof of recent recovery from the virus) is valid.

Vaccine passes

In Italy, a vaccine pass is required to access hotels, restaurants, gyms and even public transport, with no option to take a test instead. From Monday January 24th France will require proof of vaccination or recovery for long-distance travel and access to restaurants, cafes, museums, cinemas and sports venues. Switzerland requires vaccine passes for indoor events, restaurants and cultural venues.

Similar passes are used in other countries outside Europe too, for example in Israel, Morocco, South Africa and several parts of Brazil.

Mandates by profession

Vaccine mandates for members of some professions exist or are planned in a few European countries, with Italy, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and the UK requiring healthcare workers to get the jab, and some of those countries extending the mandate to other professions too. 

In Austria’s neighbour Hungary, all public sector workers are covered by a vaccine mandate and private companies have the option to require the vaccine. Latvia requires MPs to get the vaccine, and private employers can also dismiss workers who refuse to get vaccinated. And Poland is expected to pass a mandate for healthcare workers, teachers and the police.

The Czech Republic scrapped its own plans to require the jab for healthcare workers, with the government saying it did not want to exacerbate divisions.

Mandates by age

Some other countries have made Covid-19 vaccination compulsory only for certain age groups, focusing on the elderly who are more vulnerable to serious illness from the virus.

That includes Italy, which in January made the vaccine compulsory for over-50s and the penalty is a €100 fine, described by the ministry as a “one-off”. It was already compulsory for several professions including healthcare staff, police, teachers and emergency services workers.

Greece has set the age limit for compulsory jabs higher at 60, and since January has begun fining those in this age group who are unvaccinated, with €100 fines that can be issued monthly (adding up to a potential €12,000 per year). The government has also said it is considering extending the mandate to all over-50s.

That makes the fines in these countries significantly lower than those in Austria, where people who refuse to get the vaccine face fines of €600 which can be issued up to four times a year to a total of €24,000, but which could rise to €3,600 at a time if they refuse to pay the initial fine. The government has said people’s personal financial situation will be taken into account in setting the fine, and no fines will be issued until mid-March.

The Czech Republic had also planned to require vaccinations by law for over-60s, but this was overturned in January.

As with vaccine passes, vaccine mandates limited by age or profession are also in force in several countries outside Europe, though mandates linked to occupation are significantly more widespread than those linked to age, usually focusing on healthcare workers and state employees.

General mandates

Austria is unique within the EU in making the vaccine mandatory for all adults, though the Vatican City has mandated the jab for all its employees and visitors to Vatican museums.

And Austria may soon be joined by Germany, with politicians set to vote on making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory in March. It is possible that if passed, the bill may be modified to apply only to older residents.

Further afield, a small number of countries have brought in general vaccine mandates for the whole adult population, like Austria.

Those include Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, French territory New Caledonia and Micronesia.

Note: This is not a comprehensive list, but an overview of the situation. All information was correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication.

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EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The much-debated policy sparked controversy since before it was approved in February, meaning that May could be a definitive month in the country.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Austria’s Federal Government has a ticking time bomb on its hands: an ordinance that suspended its vaccine mandate law is set to expire by the end of May, which means that the controversial mandatory vaccination would be again in place as early as June 1st.

In order to keep that from happening, Austria’s Health Ministry needs to extend the current regulation or create a new one.

If it doesn’t, the Covid-19 mandatory vaccination law would automatically be back in June.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Since, by June, the vaccine mandate stated that non-vaccinated would start getting fines, the resumption of the law would mean that, from next month, those who are not vaccinated could be fined in routine checks, such as traffic checks.

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 of it was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining about vaccines and about the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if they were 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.

The law was suspended for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the relatively high vaccination coverage the country had already received, along with the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

To create a new regulation or extend the existing one stopping people from being fined, Rauch must await the report of the vaccination commission, which should be ready in May, according to the Ministry.

The coronavirus commission will assess whether the Vaccination Act is suitable and useful from a medical and legal point of view. A previous report said there were arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for those who were completely unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Der Standard reports there is little political support for compulsory vaccination and says there are still technical problems regarding automated fines. However, according to the Ministry of Health, the infrastructure should be completed in June.