Compulsory vaccinations in Austria: can it go well?

On February 1st, Austria will introduce compulsory vaccinations. But very few are really enthusiastic. Scientists do not believe that Omicron can be stopped like this. And the authorities fear a wave of lawsuits and high costs.

The debate about the general compulsory vaccination in Germany is bumpy. Under the Groko, a compulsory vaccination against the corona virus was still strictly rejected. Olaf Scholz, Vice Chancellor at the time, was quoted by the German editorial network in September as saying: “We do not need a mandatory vaccination. There are very, very good arguments in favor of being vaccinated with the highly effective vaccines.” Angela Merkel, Jens Spahn, Karl Lauterbach, Markus Söder: All of them and others had spoken out against the compulsory vaccination.

The reversal followed under the new government. Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach recently repeatedly campaigned for compulsory vaccination. And Chancellor Scholz also recently spoke out in favor of it – even if he emphasized that he was “Chancellor of the unvaccinated”. It is still unclear when and how the compulsory vaccination should be implemented. First of all, the parliament should vote on it. Of course without faction pressure.

Obligation to vaccinate should make it easier to fight the pandemic

Elsewhere, however, things are a little further along. At the beginning of the year, Italy decided to make vaccination compulsory for people over 50 years of age. In Austria, compulsory vaccination is imminent. It is the first country to introduce this measure. According to the draft law, the obligation should apply to all Austrians over the age of 14 from February 1st. Anyone who refuses to do so must expect a fine of up to 3,600 euros. According to statements by Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) from December 2021, this law should initially be limited to two years. This is to prepare for further waves of the pandemic.

Almost nine million people live in Austria. 7.7 million are affected by the compulsory vaccination. Currently are loud vaccination dashboard almost 75 percent vaccinated twice and 74 percent once against the corona virus (as of January 14, 2021). The government had to do a lot of convincing last year to get the corona and vaccine-skeptical Austrians to get the needle. The new law is intended to make it easier to fight the pandemic.

That’s in the bill

The vaccination status of Austrian citizens is checked using a vaccination register. Anyone who does not meet the criteria formulated in the draft law will be reminded of the lack of vaccination by mid-February at the latest. The district administration authorities can also demand a fine of 600 euros at three-month intervals. Anyone who cannot pay these and does not want to be vaccinated must expect a prison sentence.

Pregnant women and certain risk groups are exempt from the obligation to vaccinate. Anyone who has been infected with the corona virus is also exempt from the obligation to vaccinate in the six months after the infection was discovered. The general obligation to vaccinate not only includes basic immunization. According to the draft law, a booster dose must be given no later than seven months after the second vaccination.

However, people who have been vaccinated for a while since the first of February must take a few things into account. Your vaccination status could be downgraded. For example, Austrians who have only been vaccinated once and whose first peak was more than a year ago must undergo a first vaccination again. Your previous vaccination status is therefore invalid. The same applies to the second vaccination. If this is more than a year ago, they are only considered to have been vaccinated once. This means that the actual third vaccination is not a booster, but is still counted as a basic immunization.

debate about meaningfulness

From January 17, the Austrian National Council will give the draft law a final touch. Specifically, it should then be about when the penalties are imposed. There has already been criticism of the previously published draft law. According to the parliament’s website, 106,047 opinions have been submitted so far – more than for any law before. The workplace should be excluded from the vaccination requirement, the relevant ministry has already announced. A 2G rule cannot be implemented in the workplace. Unvaccinated workers are therefore not dismissed. However, you must regularly show a negative corona test.

In view of the rapidly spreading omicron variant, experts from the national vaccination committee and the Covid crisis coordination have doubts about the usefulness of compulsory vaccination. Some have already advocated postponing the start until an adapted vaccine is available. “We can no longer influence the omicron wave through compulsory vaccination,” said vaccination expert Herwig Kollaritsch. The epidemiologist Garald Gartlehner also said on the ORF television channel that the obligation to vaccinate must be reconsidered in view of Omicron. However, Kollaritsch emphasized that the vaccination requirement must apply before the coming autumn. “Simply because otherwise we will have the same waves again in autumn that we have now.”

In addition, the question arises whether the mandatory vaccination can really be implemented in two weeks. So the vaccination status of the population could be nationwide only checked in April will. The Elga network is responsible for electronically transmitting all health data to the Ministry of Health. But that is probably not feasible for the time being. This could also delay penalties for unvaccinated people.

Administrations fear massive additional work

Most recently, a debate broke out about the possible administrative burden. The state administrative courts expect thousands of objections. The national association assumes that the staff will have to be doubled.

Again “Standard” citing the government reports, 1.8 million penal orders could be issued later this year. If objections are filed, 1.4 million administrative criminal proceedings could result. In addition to the additional bureaucratic effort, compulsory vaccination could be extremely costly. The City of Vienna alone expects 30 million euros for material, personnel and postage costs.

It is feared that the additional costs could be passed on to taxpayers. According to administrative experts, plaintiffs pay ten percent of the procedural costs in the first instance and 20 percent in the second instance. The rest is financed from the state treasury. The only advantage: The fines should go to the hospitals.

Despite all concerns, the Austrian government is sticking to the vaccination requirement. It would not come too late, there is a “clearly specified schedule,” said Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP). I have no doubt that it will come because it is necessary to show that vaccination is indeed the way to ensure that we do not constantly need measures that restrict freedom. Whether the coming months will prove as bumpy as feared remains to be seen.

Sources:vaccination dashboard, Parliament Federal Government of Austria, Draft law on compulsory vaccination, “Der Standard”, ORF, “Die Presse”, “Wiener Zeitung”

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