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