Why are the numbers of fully-vaccinated people going down in Austria?

Despite vaccinations continuing, Austria's percentage of fully vaccinated people is decreasing. What happened?

Why are the numbers of fully-vaccinated people going down in Austria?
A woman is vaccinated at the vaccination center in Amalienbad in Vienna, Austria, February 05, 2022. - Austria's president on February 4, 2022 signed a law making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all adults, a first in the European Union. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

In comparisons among different countries, it is common to see that just 69 per cent of the Austrian population is “fully vaccinated.”

According to the Health Ministry, a month ago, that number was at 69.48 per cent – just yesterday, it was 69.05 per cent.

But people don’t “unvaccinate,” so why are numbers going down?

While most countries measure their Covid-19 vaccination rate by the number of people with at least two doses of a valid vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccination, Austria follows different criteria. And that has influenced its data considerably.

Unlike many other countries, Austria doesn’t present the data in terms of “people with two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.”

Instead, 69 per cent refers to the part of the population with a “valid vaccination certificate.”

Validity rules

In order to have a valid vaccination certificate, it is essential to consider the validity rules or the expiration dates of the vaccination.

Austria has a “validity calculator” that you can use to see when your doses are no longer valid.

The second vaccination against Covid (or the first one in case of recovery from the disease) is valid in Austria for a maximum of 180 days from the day it is received.

Beginning in early 2022, those who received one shot of the Janssen/Johnson&Johnson vaccine also had to get a second dose to obtain a certificate that fulfils the 2G rule.

Any additional vaccination, which currently means the third dose or booster shot, is valid for 270 days.

There are different rules for children. For 12 to 17-year-olds, the recommendation for a booster shot is six months after the primary immunisation. Children younger than 12 do not need to have a third vaccination.

The rules for entry into Austria are also different. Those with just one dose of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine are considered fully vaccinated for the purposes of travel to the country. Additionally, according to the entry regulation, the second dose is valid for 270 days from the day it is received.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are Austria’s current entry and Covid rules?

Especially since Austria has started its vaccination campaign early, expiration has been a problem for hundreds of thousands of people. So far, 456,000 Covid passes have expired in Austria, as people failed to go for their booster shot on time, Der Standard reported citing government data.

By May 1st, the Health Ministry says some 600,000 people would have to get their third dose to keep their Covid passes valid.

Austria recorded just over 15,000 third doses administered in the last seven days. The overall numbers have been going down weekly, with 8.36 per cent fewer doses administered in the last seven days than in the previous week.

With more Covid passes expiring than people taking their shots, the number associated with “fully vaccinated” has decreased in Austria.

In comparison, Germany currently has 76 per cent of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Still, that number includes every second vaccination or first vaccination after recovery and every vaccination with the Janssen vaccine, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

More problems ahead

Austria is set to head into more problems as booster shots expire and a fourth dose is still not recommended. There is still no solution for expired passes in those cases.

So far, fewer than 200 people are in this situation – those would have to be the very first ones to take a booster, more than nine months ago. The Health Ministry says that it’s currently working on a solution for those cases but didn’t specify whether it would require a fourth dose or just extend the booster shots’ validity.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

The European Union is trying to reach a consensus on the need for the fourth dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The European Commission should draw up a recommendation soon, Reuters reported last week.

Latest Covid numbers

From Sunday to Monday, 12,305 new infections were registered in Austria. This is below the average of the past seven days of 21,725. According to the Health Ministry, 275,956 people in Austria are actively infected with the coronavirus.

The seven-day incidence is 1,708.54. In the past 24 hours, 171,959 new PCR tests have been carried out. This results in a positive rate of 6.36 per cent.

In addition, there are 17 new deaths related to Covid-19 infection. So far, the coronavirus has claimed 16,002 deaths in Austria. There are 666 people in hospitals with the virus and 76 people in intensive care units because of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Which groups are most vaccine hesitant in Austria?

On April 3rd, only 502 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine were given in Austria; 26 were first doses, 77 were second doses, and 399 were third doses.

As a result, only 69 per cent of the total population has a valid vaccination certificate – more than 4,000 people had their certificates expired in the last 24 hours, 75.90 per cent have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 53.71 per cent have had their third dose.

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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.