A panel of vaccine experts from Austria answered the most pressing questions about the coronavirus vaccines: reassuring the public the vaccines are effective, giving information on the new mutations of the coronavirus and talking about vaccine hesitancy in Austria.
The scientists also dismissed a major concern among many in the general public – i.e. that those who have been vaccinated can continue to spread the virus.
The scientists said that existing evidence suggests the risk of transmitting the virus is reduced significantly among those who have been vaccinated due to the vaccine's impact on viral loads.
“So we can now not only say that everyone can be individually protected from a serious illness through the vaccination, but also that it is very likely that others can no longer be infected,” the panel said.
Are all three vaccines approved in Europe effective?
According to Markus Müller, Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, around 150 million people around the world have now been vaccinated against the coronavirus, so there is a lot of data.
Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt, Chair of the National Vaccination Committee says for all three vaccines approved in Europe (Moderna, BionTech-Pfizer and AstraZeneca) the data so far show the viral load is significantly reduced by the vaccination.
This makes it likely the vaccines not only protect those vaccinated against serious illness, but they are also less likely to infect others.
Is any vaccine better than the others?
Wiedermann-Schmidt says it is not possible to directly compare the three vaccines because the respective studies draw their findings from different populations and parameters.
However, all three offer extremely high protection against serious illnesses, hospitalisations and deaths.
Vaccine specialist Herwig Kollaritsch says refusing a vaccine now because you want a different one could mean a delay in the vaccination schedule of up to four months.
It is important to vaccinate as soon as possible to protect the individual and hopefully reduce the circulation of the virus in the population.
What about the different mutant variants of the virus?
An initial study showed the AstraZeneca was less effective at preventing a mild illness in the South Africa variant of coronavirus.
However, there is still no data on severe illness, hospitalisations and mortality.
Müller said vaccinations would put pressure on the virus and give it as little room as possible to mutate further.
The most widespread variant is still the original coronavirus and all vaccines protect against this.
Kollaritsch said there was still time to adapt the vaccine to the different variants which will continue to spread over the next few months.
How willing are people in Austria to vaccinate?
More people want to be vaccinated in Austria now.
In December 35 percent of the population were willing to be vaccinated. In January the figure was 54, according to the Austria vaccinates initiative.
However Reingard Glehr from Med-Uni Graz said false reports were circulating on social media, which was increasingly used for information rather than family doctors.