Even as the number of new coronavirus infections steadily drops in Austria, the country has resumed talks of a Covid-19 vaccine mandate – perhaps not for all citizens, but for some.
Several of Austria’s leading experts have been public about their view that the country should “protect those particularly at risk” ahead of what they view as a likely autumn wave.
Virologist Dorothee von Laer, who has become one of the most widely recognised specialists during the pandemic, has made it clear that compulsory vaccination for those over 60-years-old might be needed if vaccination rates don’t go up in the next few weeks.
The goal of a vaccine mandate for this group would be to prevent the overload of the health system, as 90 per cent of hospitalised and deceased are over 60, she told the Austrian parliament during a hearing on Covid measures, Der Standard reported.
Vaccine mandate for ‘at risk’ patients
Dr. von Laer is not alone. Also at the hearing and defending a compulsory vaccination for at-risk patients was lawyer Christiane Druml, chairperson of the Bioethics Commission and one of the members of Austria’s GECKO commission – a group of specialists tasked with assessing the pandemic situation and possible measures.
Druml said that compulsory vaccination is also the most extreme measure. Still, vaccination shouldn’t be seen as a private matter. She highlighted that the “principle of solidarity” should be taken into account when it comes to vaccination.
The bioethics expert advised that compulsory vaccination should apply to groups such as health professionals, people over 60 and high-risk patients of all ages, according to statements given to the newspaper Kurier.
Revaluation of the mandate is coming up
Austria’s mandatory vaccination law received presidential approval in early February and came into force. However, as support dwindled, other countries failed to institute similar measures, and vaccination rates continued to stall; the law was suspended just days before a new stage was set to start, one that would have unvaccinated people receive fines at random checks.
The official reason for the suspension, Constitutional Minister Karoline Edstadler (ÖVP) announced in early March, as that the “burden on fundamental rights” of such a measure was not “necessary” at the time, as the omicron wave of the coronavirus resulted in fewer severe cases.
The law itself provided for a suspension, and Health Minister Johannes Ruach (Greens) explained concerns about new variants and seasonal spikes in new infections as winter approaches could lead to a change in policy.
Additionally, experts would have to consider that measures commonly taken to halt the spread of the virus, from mandatory masks to lockdowns, might not be well received after two years of pandemic and summer, basically without any restrictions.
Rauch said that the Austrian vaccination committee would meet again this May to report back to the government to make a new decision over compulsory vaccination.
Even as the vaccination mandate is seen as a “last resort”, doctors and specialists continue to plead with the Austrian population to get vaccinated.
Health Minister Rauch, on several occasions, reiterated: “the vaccine works, and the vaccine protects”, asking people who haven’t received any vaccination to get their shot and those who haven’t taken their booster to protect themselves.
Austria currently has 68.46 per cent of its population fully vaccinated. As more people let their Covid passes expire without taking the third dose, the number decreases. Just under 76 per cent of the population has at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, and 54.4 per cent have received the third dose.
On Thursday, April 21st, the country reported 11,948 new coronavirus infections. A total of 1,704 people were hospitalised with the virus, 172 fewer than the day before, and 130 were in intensive care units.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 17,057 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.