Is Austria’s compulsory Covid vaccination plan in jeopardy?

Less than a week after a nationwide mandatory Covid jab rule was implemented, doubts are emerging over whether it will actually be enforced.

Austria has suspended its Covid vaccine mandate. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Austria has suspended its Covid vaccine mandate. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

On Friday, February 4th, Austria’s mandatory vaccination law was given presidential approval, just hours after it was approved by parliament. 

OPINION: Austria’s vaccine mandate is politically high-risk with limited benefits

The law officially comes into force on February 5th, although unvaccinated Austrians have until mid-March to get the jab. 

However, politicians and virologists have raised questions over the compulsory vaccination scheme, putting the controversial plan in jeopardy. 

The governors of the Austrian states of Carinthia, Upper Austria and Salzburg are questioning whether the compulsory vaccination law should come into force in March, or whether other solutions should be pursued. 

The governors expressed doubts due to the relatively stable numbers in the hospitals, which are a combined consequence of the current vaccination coverage as well as the lower potency of the Omicron variant. 

Carinthia’s governor Peter Kaiser of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) party said there should be a “constant review” to see if the law is still proportional.

Salzburg’s governor Wilfried Haslauer, who is in the governing Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) party also called for an evaluation before the law comes into force on March 15th. 

Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP), governor of Upper Austria, said he supported the idea of a vaccine mandate but questioned whether Austria should still go ahead with it. 

Stelzer said he felt such a scheme was “useful, but whether it is really necessary… remains open and should be discussed.”

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s vaccine mandate will work

Virologist Norbert Nowotny believes the compulsory vaccination law is now “no longer really necessary” as hospitals are holding up well during the Omicron wave.

He also suggested waiting until the Novavax and Valneva vaccines are available, which may boost uptake.

He suggested people could be made to pay for Covid tests instead as an incentive to vaccinate.

Sigrid Maurer, chairwoman of the Greens, said however that the law should go ahead. 

“A commission is being set up that is constantly evaluating, but of course the vaccination requirement has been introduced and it applies. The goal is that we are well protected from another wave in the fall,” she said. 

Neighbouring Germany is also wavering over whether or not to go ahead with a nationwide vaccination mandate. 


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.