Obligation to vaccinate in Austria: Is it really just “fine tuning”?

Status: 01/15/2022 10:47 a.m

Austria’s parliament will decide next week on compulsory vaccination. But even there, a lot is still open. The issue at stake: Is it just about “fine tuning” the draft law or is it about the whole thing?

By Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Studio Vienna

Now the obligation to vaccinate is only about “fine tuning”, Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer says – from the home office, because he caught the virus on the sidelines of a press conference on the Corona crisis. In the more than 108,000 statements on the draft law that landed in Parliament’s mailbox, it reads a little differently: many opponents of vaccination have vented their anger, but also many whose objections should be taken seriously.

Epidemiologist: “Reassess” after Omicron

It is being discussed, for example, whether Austria still needs the vaccination law now that there is talk of “contamination” with the more contagious, but probably more harmless omicron variant. The epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner from Danube University Krems initiated the debate.

One has to assume that after the omicron wave, “a level of immunity in the population has been reached that we have never had during the pandemic,” says Gartlehner. Therefore, one must “reassess” the obligation to vaccinate after the Omicron wave.

The government countered that there was no reason to postpone it. Because vaccinated means: fewer seriously ill people and more free beds in the hospitals. The prevailing opinion is that this also clarifies the legal question of proportionality.

Judge: Mechanism for evaluation is missing

Should the threat situation change, the expiry date could be reconsidered, says Sabine Matejka, President of the Austrian Association of Judges. “The situation changes very quickly, we’ve learned,” said Matejka. This applies both to the epidemiological situation and to progress in vaccination and drug development. “What we lack in this bill is an identifiable mechanism for how to conduct this evaluation.”

There is criticism of the obligation to vaccinate from the age of 14. Health economist Ingrid Zechmeister tells parliament that we should please think about it again – and refers to the German example: In Germany, the ethics council “didn’t even consider” that under 18-year-olds could be affected by compulsory vaccination.

ELGA: Software still needs to be “boosted”.

Without effective controls, the vaccination law will not be enforceable. Austria has the advantage that there was a central vaccination register here before Corona, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said with relief: “For the vaccination requirement, data from the central population register must be merged with the central vaccination register and the epidemiological reporting system,” said the minister.

Sounds simple, but deceptive, contradicts ELGA. This abbreviation stands for “Electronic Health Record”, a company that is responsible for “overlapping data” on a public contract. The software must first be “boosted”, so to speak, before April nothing can be “cut”, according to ELGA.

Administrative lawyers expect a wave of lawsuits by those who refuse to vaccinate against the penalties. If other important things are not to be left undone, new, additional positions in the courts would be needed.

The majority for compulsory vaccination next week in the Austrian Parliament seems very certain – just as certain as a number of “fine touches” on the law.

Austria: Pros & Cons Obligation to vaccinate – before the last round in Parliament

Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Vienna, January 14, 2022 09:18 a.m

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