Austria announces new Covid-19 vaccination campaign

Austria's Health Ministry has budgeted €3.5 million for an information campaign looking to increase vaccination rates in the country this autumn.

Austria announces new Covid-19 vaccination campaign
Austrian health minister Johannes Rauch attends a press conference in Vienna, on June 23, 2022. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) presented the country’s new information campaign on Covid-19 vaccination during a press conference on Monday, September 5th.

The campaign comes at the beginning of autumn and  ahead of the colder months when respiratory infectious diseases tend to spread more quickly.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

“The new campaign is closer to the people: We supplement classic advertising with direct personal advice on site, including at doctors, in pharmacies and schools – with information weeks, information events and information material.”, Rauch said.

For that, he said the government had the support of the Chamber of Doctors and Pharmacists. The campaign also had its #GemeinsamGeimpft website (together vaccinated) revamped with more information on the vaccines.

Vaccination status in Austria

Rauch said that the campaign’s target group is the elderly and other vulnerable groups, but also young people, among whom the vaccination rate is generally low.

Currently, only 4.5 percent of the population has received a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccination – though it’s worth mentioning that the fourth shot has only recently been recommended for the general population.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

The health minister stressed the importance of the fourth dose, saying it reduces the risk of death by fourth-fifths and the risk of hospitalisation by half.

The information campaign will be conducted mainly through “counselling sessions” at doctors’ offices and pharmacies and in schools by medical professionals hosting “information evenings.”
Businesses will also be involved and 4.5 million reminders will be sent out at the end of November to all Austrians whose last vaccination was more than six months ago.

Finally, the cities and municipalities will also conduct their own information campaigns with the federal government’s support.

Should I get the booster vaccination (4th vaccination)?

The fourth vaccination has been recommended since 31 August for all persons aged 12 years and older.

It should be taken from four to six months after the third vaccination. The current vaccination scheme in Austria includes three doses for a primary immunisation for everyone older than five years old. The second dose should be taken from three to four weeks after the first.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

The third dose should be taken four to six months after the second for people older than 12 or part of the risk groups. For children from five to 11 years old, the third dose should be taken at least six months after the second. There is currently no recommendation for a booster (or fourth) Covid-19 shot for children.

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Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

Specialists in Austria - and worldwide - can't agree if the Covid-19 pandemic is nearing its end, and many remain cautious. Here's what you need to know.

Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

The World Health Organisation’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said that the pandemic was not over yet, but that “the end is in sight”. Similarly, US President Joe Biden stated: “The pandemic is over, but we still have a problem with Covid.”

In Austria, experts are cautiously optimistic. Dorothee von Laer, a virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck, said: “A pandemic is over when a high level of immunity has built up in the population, and that is probably the case everywhere in the world except in China”, Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the new adapted Covid-19 vaccine in Austria

Herwig Kollaritsch, infectologist and member of Austria’s national vaccination panel (NIG), has a similar view. “We are increasingly getting into a somewhat better situation because the immunity level in the population is rising due to many vaccinations and infections.”

Though he is more cautious: “We have always had problems due to a change of variants, and even now, we are absolutely not safe from surprises”.

New variants

The biggest fear ahead of winter is precisely that: a change of variants, specialists say. Especially since more and more omicron mutations are being found and they can circumvent the immune defences quite well, Ulrich Elling, a molecular biologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, told Der Standard.

However, since all the current mutations are still omicron variants, the severe courses of the disease continue to be rare.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

“We still use hospitalisation and death rates as parameters. So when it comes to that, we are out of the woods. But still, a lot of people will get sick – not very seriously, but they will get sick,” Kollaritsch said.

Elling agrees: “Of course, statements about the supposed end of the pandemic are striking a chord with people at the moment. We all want it to be over. Nevertheless, the numbers will rise again. Above all, the new variants escape our immune response more than any other variant before.”

For him, it’s wrong to say that the pandemic is over or that there won’t be a new infection wave in winter. Even though they may be of milder courses of the disease, the virus is still out there and will infect people in the coming months, he believes.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season