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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 ALERT

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.

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