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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria establishes commission to decide on mandatory Covid jabs

Just weeks after the nationwide Covid vaccine mandate was signed into law, the controversial measure is in jeopardy.

A woman walks in a vaccination booth at the vaccination center in Amalienbad in Vienna, Austria, February 05, 2022. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
Will Austria's vaccine mandate go ahead? Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

A new expert commission which will advise on compulsory vaccination has been set up to ensure any future action regarding the law will be supported on a scientific basis.

The commission will work with GECKO, Austria’s national crisis team.

The compulsory vaccination commission consists of the physicians Eva Schernhammer and Herwig Kollaritsch, medical lawyer Karl Stöger and legal scholar Christiane Wendehorst.

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s vaccine mandate will work

Austria’s compulsory vaccination law – the first in Europe – is set to come into effect on March 16th, when “phase two” will mean police can also check vaccination certificates and report violations to the district administration authorities.

The commission will make its first report the week before, on March 8th.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) pointed out Austria’s vaccination law was supported by a large majority and was drawn up in a joint process by the federal government with experts and parts of the opposition.

However, the law has come under increasing doubt, due to the stabilising Covid situation and the relaxation of Austria’s Covid measures from early March onwards. 

After the announcement on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein, from The Greens, spoke to ZIB2 about the relaxation of restrictions and said he “assumed” the vaccination mandate would still be implemented from March 15th.

Additionally, Mückstein said it is expected that the planned penalties for unvaccinated people will also be enforced from the same date. 

READ MORE: Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Which groups are most vaccine hesitant in Austria?

The vaccination rate in Austria varies between different socio-economic groups in the country, as new data from Statistics Austria shows. Just under 69 percent of the population are considered fully vaccinated.

Which groups are most vaccine hesitant in Austria?

In total, 78 percent of the Austrian population have some form of protection against the virus because 14 percent have had a confirmed Covid infection, most of whom were not vaccinated.

Vaccination rates are higher among people born in Austria, at 70.4 percent, than those born outside Austria, at 64.4 percent (although it’s worth noting that Austria does not currently recognise some vaccines used in other countries, including notably the Sputnik vaccine used widely in Russia and neighbouring Hungary for example).

OPINION: Austria’s vaccine mandate is politically high-risk with limited benefits

But there are also significant differences among international residents depending on country of origin.

People born in the Czech Republic (74 percent vaccination rate), Germany (73.1 percent), Afghanistan (73 percent) and Italy (71.1 percent) were all more likely than native Austrians to be vaccinated, while eight countries had vaccination rates below 60 percent: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and Romania.

Again, the use of different vaccinations in these countries likely plays a role as several foreign residents travelled to their home countries to get the Covid vaccine. Statistics Austria also notes: “The proportion of children and young people among non-Austrian nationals is higher than among people born abroad” and that children have a lower vaccination rate.

EXPLAINED: How to claim your 100 euro vaccination bonus in Austria

There was also a link between level of education and vaccination willingness. Among people of working age (25 to 64), the rate of vaccination was just below 82 percent for those with a university degree, compared to 69% for those whose highest level of education was completing compulsory education.

The statistics also show that people who are employed have a higher vaccination rate at 76 percent than people who are unemployed, at 71 percent. 

People working in international organisations (such as embassies or the UN) had the highest vaccination rate at 84.6 percent, followed by those working in information and communication (83.4 percent), public administration (82.1 percent) and finance or insurance (81.8 percent). The professions with the lowest rate of vaccination were construction (67.6 percent), agriculture and forestry (69.6 percent) and working in private households (69.7 percent).

Vaccination rates were higher among older age groups, with rates above 80 percent for over-60s, and between 70 to 80 percent for people aged between 15 and 59.

And the statistics showed that 42 percent of children aged 10 to 14 had received the Covid-19 vaccine, along with 18.4 percent of those aged five to nine. Around 20 percent of children in these age groups had been infected with Covid and not vaccinated, likely leaving them with some level of protection against the virus.

At the start of the month Austria became the first EU country to introduce a law making vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory. However, it has not yet started issuing fines or carrying out checks on vaccine status, and it looks increasingly unlikely that this will happen as the country plans to remove most Covid measures from March 5th.

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