Is the lockdown boosting Austria’s sluggish vaccination rate?

Austria's low vaccination rate has been partly blamed for the Autumn serge in infections but is the lockdown and threat of mandatory jabs having any impact?

Is the lockdown boosting Austria's sluggish vaccination rate?
Is the fourth national lockdown boosting Covid-19 vaccination rates in Austria? Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP.

Since Monday November 22nd, residents in Austria have been in lockdown for the fourth time since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020.

The Austrian Federal Government deemed the move necessary after case rates continued to rise and hospitals started filling up with Covid-19 patients – especially in the hard hit provinces of Salzburg and Upper Austria.

A reason for the explosion in cases had been put down to Austria’s low vaccination rate, which last week was one of the lowest in Europe as well as other factors such as the colder weather and the declining protection offered by the vaccines.

READ MORE: Austria bans flights from southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant

So is the lockdown working to encourage more people to get vaccinated? The data seems to suggest it is.

Covid-19 vaccination rates in Austria

On November 1st, figures show that 63.2 percent of the eligible population in Austria was fully vaccinated, 66.4 percent had received just one dose and 3.7 percent had the booster shot.

Fast forward to November 25th and 66 percent are fully vaccinated while 70.5 percent have had one dose and 17.7 percent have received the booster.

This is quite a significant increase in the first dose and booster shot figures.

READ ALSO: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

According to the Health Ministry, the number of vaccinations being administered in Austria in the past seven days (as of November 26th) is up by 17.7 percent on the previous week.

The chart below from Our World in Data suggests Austria’s vaccination rate has been sharply increasing since the start of November. Austria introduced a lockdown just for the unvaccinated on November 15th before extending it to the general population.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that in the past week Austria has administered around 10,000 Covid-19 vaccination doses every day. Two weeks ago that figure was estimated to be around 1,000 vaccinations a day.

However, Austria is still lagging behind its European neighbours, with Germany, Italy and France all registering a higher number of fully vaccinated people, as the chart below shows.

At the time of publication, none of these countries were in lockdown, although Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn was calling for “massive contract restrictions” after more than 76,000 new Covid infections were reported in one day.

As well as the national lockdown in Austria, the Federal Government also announced plans to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory from February 2022.

The announcement of Impfpflicht sparked protests in cities across Austria last weekend, but legal experts told The Local that compulsory vaccination is legally possible and likely to happen.

Will the lockdown and Impfpflicht be enough to tackle the fourth wave of Covid-19 in Austria? Only time will tell, but the data is showing a positive development so far.

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What to know about Austria’s new advice on Covid vaccines

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, each country developed its own vaccination recommendation, which often changed. Here is the new advice from the Austrian vaccination panel.

What to know about Austria's new advice on Covid vaccines

The Austrian National Vaccination Panel has updated its recommendations on Covid vaccination on several points, the Ministry of Health announced.

“Special attention continues to be paid to the completion of the basic immunisation, which is recommended for all persons five years of age and older, and to the booster vaccination,” according to the Ministry of Health.

The booster shot is generally available to all persons 12 years of age and older and is free of charge, but it is especially recommended for persons 60 years of age and older and those at risk.

READ ALSO: Masks against Covid and flu: What’s ahead for Austria this winter

In Austria, the basic immunisation against Covid-19 consists of three vaccine doses. A fourth dose, also known as a booster shot, is also recommended.

What is new in the recommendation?

Austria is adding a new coronavirus vaccine, from Sanofi (VidPrevtyn Beta), to the list of offers against the virus. The new vaccine is protein-based and has already been approved by the European authorities. 

In Austria, the Sanofi vaccine can be used from the third vaccination onwards on people older than 18. The offer will be available at the vaccination sites in the coming week at the earliest, according to the Ministry. 

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

Another change is that the variant Comirnaty Original/Omicron BA.4-5 from BioNTech/Pfizer will also be used for the third vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years. 

This vaccine is specially adapted to the virus variants Omicron BA.4 and 5. It is now available for children in a special application shot that should be in vaccination sites starting next week at the earliest. 

READ ALSO: What to expect from the ski season in Austria this winter

Also included in the recommendations is a clarification specifically on an additional booster vaccination (fifth vaccination). 

People at risk from the age of 18, and those from the age of 60 can receive the additional booster vaccination four months after the fourth vaccination. According to the vaccination panel, no fifth vaccination is necessary for healthy people under 60.