What we know about Austria’s plan for compulsory Covid vaccination

What we know about Austria's plan for compulsory Covid vaccination
People queuing for Covid-19 vaccines after the lockdown for unvaccinated people was announced last week. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
Austria on Friday announced that it would take steps to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory, making it the first EU country to announce such a measure for the whole population.

The announcement came at a Friday press conference where the government also announced a fourth nationwide lockdown, would start on Monday.

But Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said that while a lockdown would curb the current fourth wave and ease pressure on overwhelmed hospitals, a higher vaccination take-up rate was needed to limit the spread of Covid-19 “long-term”.

“Despite months of persuasion, discussions, and a range of efforts, we have not succeeded in getting enough people vaccinated,” said Schallenberg. “We have to look reality in the eye.”

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein had already announced that he wanted to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory for workers in the health and care sectors, a measure that has also been announced within different parts of the healthcare sector in Italy, Greece, France, in Belgium and in the UK. In Hungary, the government has announced compulsory vaccination for all state employees.

Stricter mandates have been brought in elsewhere: the Vatican City has made Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for residents and employees, and Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Micronesia, Indonesia and French territory New Caledonia have also brought in compulsory vaccines. 

But Austria is now the first EU country to be planning a general vaccine mandate.

According to Friday’s announcement, this would be brought in by February 1st 2022 at the latest, after undergoing preparatory work and an assessment of the legal validity.

Mückstein said the government would be working with lawyers, social partners and other interest groups over the next months on preparing the legislation. 

This means it is not yet clear from which age the mandate will apply, or how exemptions for those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons will work.

According to Mückstein, the idea is that people who refuse the vaccine would face penalties including fines. He confirmed on Friday afternoon that the penalties would most likely be limited to administrative fines.

The government has already begun discussions with constitutional lawyers who reportedly said that a general vaccine mandate is in principle possible, but the law will need to undergo further reviews before it can come into effect.

As of Friday, health ministry data showed that 69.3 percent of the Austrian population had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine, putting it slightly below the EU average. A total of 65.7 percent are considered fully vaccinated. But that still leaves about a quarter of the population eligible for vaccination who are yet to get the jab.

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