Austrian parliament passes compulsory vaccination law

Austrian health minister Wolfgang Mückstein. [Bundesministerium für Soziales]

The Austrian parliament voted on Thursday evening (20 January) in favour of making vaccinations mandatory by February. The government also announced a lottery-based “incentive and reward package” to boost the acceptance of the new law.

The governing conservative-Green coalition was able to secure a broad majority in the parliament, with the Social Democrats and most liberal MPs also voting in favour of mandatory vaccinations.

Overall, 137 out of 170 MPs supported the legislation.

“Today is an important day. We want to take an essential step in Austrian Corona policy,” Austrian health minister Wolfgang Mückstein said ahead of the vote.

Mückstein emphasised that the decision is based on the principle of solidarity. Until autumn, Austria wants to reach a high level of immunity in the population to ensure that a potential coming corona wave would not make restrictive measures necessary. Compulsory vaccinations would be crucial to achieving this goal, he explained.

Mandatory vaccination is a “decision to return to a life as we knew it before the pandemic,” Mückstein stated.

Every Austrian resident above the age of 18 will be required to receive a jab from February onwards. Only those who are recovered, pregnant or can’t be vaccinated due to health reasons are exempt from the new rule. The government will start fining those who refuse to comply with up to €3,600 from mid-March onwards.

The measures were already announced in November and have since led to widespread weekly demonstrations in Austria’s biggest cities.

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Vaccination gambling

A few hours ahead of the vote, the government also announced a new “incentive and reward package.” To boost the willingness of the undecided to get vaccinated and to reward those who already received the jab, the package aims to create a “vaccination lottery.”

One in ten vaccinated will have the chance to win vouchers worth €500, which includes those who are already vaccinated and those who will get vaccinated in the future. Each received jab counts a separate entry to the lottery – meaning that people who received three vaccinations are also able to win three times.

The government will provide around €1 billion for the vaccination lottery. According to Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer, the lottery is a reward for everybody who is already vaccinated and an incentive system for those who are still hesitant.

The lottery will start on 15 March, the same day Austrian authorities will begin fining residents who are not vaccinated.

Additionally, the package also introduces an incentive system for local authorities to advertise vaccinations and to increase their willingness to inform their residents about its benefits.

Every municipality that reaches a vaccination rate over 80% will receive financial benefits. The government reserved €75 million for these local authorities and will distribute the financial incentive according to the population of the municipalities.

Local authorities can receive an additional €400 million if they reach certain vaccination goals. “Every community benefits when it has a high immunisation rate,” Nehammer said.

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First EU-country with compulsory vaccinations

Austria is the first EU-country to make vaccinations mandatory. So far, most EU countries who considered similar steps to fight the pandemic are either still debating the issue, or have introduced only sectorial mandatory vaccinations.

Germany is currently heavily debating whether to revert to such drastic measures. Germany is set to debate the issue in the Bundestag next Wednesday. However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz already said last week that he is in favour of making vaccinations mandatory for everyone above the age of 18 – thereby following the Austrian example.

Other EU-countries have so far introduced mandatory vaccinations only for the elderly or for specific professions.

France, for instance, has made vaccinations mandatory for transport workers or health and care professionals. Similar measures are also in place in Italy, where vaccinations are mandated for health professionals since April 2021. In early January, the Italian government went one step further and introduced mandatory vaccinations for everybody above the age of 50.

The EU has also positioned itself on the controversial topic. In January, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also stressed that it would be time to “think about mandatory vaccinations.”

A similar stance has also been taken by European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas. In mid-December, he told EURACTIV that the issue would be “on the table.”

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“These are …

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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