Austria’s draft vaccine mandate law to be presented next week

Here's what we know about Austria's plans for making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, after the government held a press conference on Tuesday morning following a summit on the subject.

Austria's draft vaccine mandate law to be presented next week
A lot still remains unclear about how the mandate will work in practice after the government update. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

The government confirmed that the law making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory is set to come into effect from February 1st, with a first draft to be presented on December 6th to undergo a four-week review process.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein urged people in Austria not to wait until the law comes into force, but to get their vaccine as soon as possible.

“Yes, [the mandate] is in intrusion into fundamental rights and freedoms,” he acknowledged, saying that this was the reason the government is involving a wide range of people in their discussions on the law. He stressed that the law was “the only alternative”, given the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing serious illness and the currently low vaccination rate.

The details were shared at a press conference from Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler and Mückstein, following talks between the government, opposition parties SPÖ and NEOS, and experts, which the health minister called a “fruitful exchange”.

READ ALSO: How will Austria’s mandatory vaccination law work in practice?

Edtstadler confirmed that such a mandate was not a violation of constitutional rights, if it can achieve the goal of protecting national health.

She apologised to members of the public who did not feel they had been “adequately informed” about the vaccine, and said there had been “failures” in this area.

More than 70 percent of Austria’s population has now had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but Mückstein said “from an epidemiological point of view, that is not enough” to avoid future lockdowns and pressure on Austrian healthcare.

Beyond confirmation of the timeline, there were few new details on Tuesday about how the law will work in practice, with both ministers stressing that more talks would be carried out with the opposition parties and relevant organisations and experts.

The ministers were asked from what age the mandate would begin, and Edtstadler said this would need to be discussed further before it was decided.

READ ALSO: When will Austria’s lockdown end?

She said that in any case, children in the Volkschule (primary school, usually aged between six and ten) would most likely not be affected by the mandate, and suggested that an age limit of 14 would be possible.

Edtstadler also refused to comment on the potential monetary amount of administrative fines for violations of the mandate, after reports in Austrian media that the amount was likely to be set at €3,600, which could be issued twice to make a total of €7,200.

A reporter also asked whether there was a possibility that if the vaccination rate improved, the law would not be introduced, to which Edtstadler replied: “We see the necessity of a vaccine mandate.”

The far-right Freedom Party was not involved in Tuesday’s discussions, and its leader Herbert Kickl on Tuesday described the government as “stupid and sadistic” in his first speech after being in quarantine for a Covid-19 infection.

The plans for a vaccine mandate have sparked protests across the country over the last two weekends, including some rallies organised by the Freedom Party.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s foreign residents feel about the pandemic response

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

Austria's national vaccination board changed the recommendations for when to get the fourth dose of coronavirus vaccines. Here's what you need to know.

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

Over this weekend, Austria’s national vaccination board (NIG) released an updated recommendation on Covid-19 immunisation, changing its previous guidance for the fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccination slightly.

According to the NIG, booster vaccinations can be given to persons aged 12 years and older and are recommended for anyone who wants to protect themselves.

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

In particular, the 4th vaccination is advised for persons over 60 years of age, persons at risk of severe disease progression (including pregnant women) and persons with an increased risk of exposure (healthcare workers, people in long-term nursing or care facilities, etc.).

The recommended interval between the third and fourth doses is from six months for people between 12 and 59 years old, NIG said. For those over 60 or risk patients, that interval is from 4 months.

What has changed then?

The main difference is the recommendation for those who have had a Covid-19 infection after their third shot.

“An infection in vaccinated persons usually leads to a booster effect (hybrid immunity), which can affect the optimal timing of the next vaccination.”, NIG said.

However, the board specified that infection could only be “counted” after it was confirmed with a PCR test.

READ ALSO: Austria announces new Covid-19 vaccination campaign

So, if you have had a PCR-confirmed infection after your second or third shot and it was an asymptomatic case, you may follow the regular vaccination scheme. However, you can also postpone your vaccination for up to six months.

If you had a symptomatic case, you may postpone your next dose for up to six months only if you are younger than 60 and not of a risk group.

NIG said: “Persons vaccinated three times who have also had a proven omicron infection show a good booster response and cross-immunity”.

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

It added: In such cases, especially in persons under 60 years of age, the 4th vaccination within a period of up to 6 months does not achieve any further improvement in immune protection and thus, the 4th vaccination can be postponed accordingly.