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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 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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