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COVID-19 VACCINES

When will the Novavax vaccine be available in Austria?

Novavax is the first 'inactivated vaccine' for Covid to be approved in the EU. When will it be approved - and administered - in Austria?

Novavax vaccine vials. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Novavax vaccine vials. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Vaccinations against Covid-19 with the Novavax jab began in late February, Austria’s Ministry of Health confirmed.

The first were carried out in Upper Austria and Tyrol on Sunday, February 27th, followed by Vienna on March 1st. 

Lower Austria will begin Novavax shots on March 7th 

Currently, more than 31,300 Austrians have registered for a vaccination with Novavax.

Austria has ordered 750,000 doses of the vaccine for the first quarter of 2022.

It is hoped some people who currently refuse to be vaccinated may be persuaded to with the new vaccine, which is a protein subunit vaccine, using different technology to the mRNA and vector vaccines previously approved in the EU.

The process used to produce Novavax is therefore closer to traditional vaccines, which may encourage those sceptical of mRNA or Vector technology. 

Two doses of Novavax, injected about three weeks apart gives 90 percent protection against symptomatic infection, according to the EU Medicines Agency (EMA). 

What is an inactivated vaccine? 

The Novavax vaccine is the first ‘inactivated vaccine’ to be given EU approval. 

Inactivated vaccines are known in German under the scary Totimpfstoff (dead vaccine) moniker.

Inactivated vaccines are the best known examples of vaccines and have been administered for centuries. 

Inactivated vaccines use dead particles of a disease or pathogen.

When administered, the recipient will generate antibodies to the disease but will not contract it, due to the fact the particles are dead. 

Why is this important? 

The four vaccines administered in Austria since the start of the pandemic – Moderna, Pfizer/Biontech, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson – all use different technology. 

Both Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech use mRNA technology, while Johnson and Johnson and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine use vector technology. 

While both of these technologies have been shown to be safe, authorities believe some vaccine holdouts have indicated a reluctance to embrace newer technologies and would prefer to receive a Covid vaccine using technology which they are familiar with. 

A survey in neighbouring Germany showed that 56 percent of unvaccinated people would be more willing to vaccinate with an inactivated vaccine, should one become available. 

The Novavax jab can also be stored at usual refrigerator temperatures, meaning that it is more portable for rural areas and for countries with poorer vaccine infrastructure. 

Is the vaccine effective? 

Studies show the vaccine had an effectiveness rate of 90 percent against symptomatic infections and produced only mild side effects. 

Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology noted however that as with all vaccine types, there are some doubts as to its effectiveness against the Omicron variant. 

Another vaccine using similar technology, CoronaVac, was shown to have lower effectiveness against Omicron in trials in Hong Kong. 

Novavax have said they would alter the vaccine to have a greater effectiveness against Omicron from January. 

As with the other Covid vaccines besides Johnson and Johnson, two doses of Novavax are necessary to achieve full protection. 

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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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