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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria establishes commission to decide on mandatory Covid jabs

Just weeks after the nationwide Covid vaccine mandate was signed into law, the controversial measure is in jeopardy.

A woman walks in a vaccination booth at the vaccination center in Amalienbad in Vienna, Austria, February 05, 2022. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
Will Austria's vaccine mandate go ahead? Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

A new expert commission which will advise on compulsory vaccination has been set up to ensure any future action regarding the law will be supported on a scientific basis.

The commission will work with GECKO, Austria’s national crisis team.

The compulsory vaccination commission consists of the physicians Eva Schernhammer and Herwig Kollaritsch, medical lawyer Karl Stöger and legal scholar Christiane Wendehorst.

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s vaccine mandate will work

Austria’s compulsory vaccination law – the first in Europe – is set to come into effect on March 16th, when “phase two” will mean police can also check vaccination certificates and report violations to the district administration authorities.

The commission will make its first report the week before, on March 8th.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) pointed out Austria’s vaccination law was supported by a large majority and was drawn up in a joint process by the federal government with experts and parts of the opposition.

However, the law has come under increasing doubt, due to the stabilising Covid situation and the relaxation of Austria’s Covid measures from early March onwards. 

After the announcement on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein, from The Greens, spoke to ZIB2 about the relaxation of restrictions and said he “assumed” the vaccination mandate would still be implemented from March 15th.

Additionally, Mückstein said it is expected that the planned penalties for unvaccinated people will also be enforced from the same date. 

READ MORE: Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?

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COVID-19 VACCINES

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.

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