Covid in Austria: Presentation of the Bill on Compulsory Vaccination Starting February 1, 2022

More+More+ ♦ Published: January 17, 2022; 23:45 ♦ (Vindobona)

At a press conference at the Federal Chancellery, the federal government presented the draft law for compulsory vaccination in Austria, which will take effect on February 1. "It is not about the fight of vaccinated against unvaccinated!"

Karoline Edtstadler said: "There will be no substitute imprisonment or coercive detention in the process." / Picture: © Bundeskanzleramt (BKA) / Christoper Dunker

For the chancellor, it was the first media public appointment after recovering from a Corona infection. "After my infection, I can say with conviction that vaccination protects. The Corona vaccination benefits and has always given me the good feeling of not having to go to the hospital or intensive care unit and of having protected my family in the best possible way," Nehammer said at the press conference in Vienna. 

However, he said, he knows that there are quite a lot of people in the country who are still afraid of vaccination. "We as the federal government take these fears very seriously. Our offer is still valid: Let's seek dialogue, let's seek conversation. And if there is distrust of the policy, then seek a conversation with your health care provider. Listen to what the experts say and recommend, because those recommendations lead to protecting our shared freedom." It has been a concern of his from the beginning that it is not about the fight of vaccinated against unvaccinated or about any form of intentional discrimination, but about the knowledge of the experts, Karl Nehammer emphasized. "Vaccination is the best guarantee that we can live together as a society in freedom," he said. Which advantages the vaccination brings, one sees now straight in the Omikron wave. If we didn't already have such a high willingness of people in this country to get vaccinated, the consequences would be much more dramatic."

The current phase is a major challenge, he said, because it's not just about one's own health, but about the common good. Therefore, he said, everyone together has a responsibility to stand in solidarity with each other. The government certainly did not make it easy for itself with the compulsory vaccination measure. But it had been seen that too many people were still not vaccinated to be able to live together again in the usual way. Therefore, he said, it was decided to do everything possible to fight this pandemic. "Therefore, it is our ambition and commitment to ensure that we can preserve and defend the freedom that is so important to all of us. This can be done with the compulsory vaccination, which we will adopt and which will come into force at the beginning of February," informed the Chancellor. Of course, he said, one knows that this is an extremely sensitive issue and that there are many facets that must be taken into account and that has been done. "We have conducted the parliamentary process as it should be conducted.We have intensively involved the opposition, who are willing to share this responsibility of such a decision together. We have had very good and intensive discussions with the common goal of implementing this intensive measure as best we can and making sure that constitutionality is maintained at all times."

Three-phase model of compulsory vaccination as of entry into force

With compulsory vaccination coming into force from the beginning of February for everyone aged 18 and over, there will be an initial phase during which people will be given the opportunity to be convinced to be vaccinated, he said.

Then, starting in mid-March, mandatory vaccination will actually be controlled, he said. "It will be a control offense, where you have to present your vaccination status to controlling bodies and if you are not vaccinated, you will be punished accordingly," Nehammer said.

The second phase follows if vaccination progress is still insufficient, he said. Then, he said, there will be a reminder or information letter to those who have not yet been vaccinated.

In the third phase, if all that is of no use, there will be a letter with a vaccination appointment, and if that is not met, there will also be prosecution, he said.

"This is a phased model that has been designed so that the government and the minister of health, together with the GECKO staff, can accurately assess how the progress of vaccination is in our country." In the best case scenario, he said, the third phase will not be needed at all. That is also the common goal, the head of government stressed.

The chancellor thanked the experts who worked on the compulsory vaccination law. "The law is constructed to be as flexible as possible in response to developments in the corona situation. It is not a rigid concept, but an adaptive one. We also took the comments made and the opposition very seriously. It was also clear to us, after a clear process with the experts, that there are major concerns about mandatory vaccination for adolescents. Therefore, we have decided that mandatory vaccination now applies from the age of 18. With compulsory vaccination, we have the chance that the virus will no longer be able to restrict our freedom in the future," Nehammer concluded.

Constitutional Minister Edtstadler: Compulsory vaccination to protect society

At the press conference, Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler emphasized that compulsory vaccination is a last resort. "A general vaccination obligation, as we are introducing, is not a short-term measure. But it is central in the fight against the pandemic. It raises substantial public health and constitutional questions." The bill is very well balanced, he said. Legitimate objections were taken seriously after the review draft so that the law would be enforceable, he said.

"In it, there are many ordinance authorizations: in terms of vaccines, in terms of vaccination intervals, in terms of exemptions for certain people, in terms of compulsory vaccination, and much more. There is no question that compulsory vaccination is an interference with fundamental rights. But the encroachment is justified if a legitimate goal is pursued in a democratic society," the constitutional minister explained. And that is precisely the protection of society and the maintenance of health systems, she said.

"It also requires an effective means. Vaccination works and protects against severe courses of the disease, as well as against intensive medical treatment. At the moment, it is the most efficient tool in the fight against the pandemic," Edtstadler said. And another important point is "that this duty is proportionate." A fundamental rights balancing must be done, she said. "There is very clear case law from the European Court of Human Rights."

The law will be controlled after March 15, he said. In a second phase, the health minister could issue reminder letters to everyone who has not yet been vaccinated, he said. "In the third phase, automation-assisted penalty notices can be issued. You can be fined four times for not complying with this vaccination status. The goal is not to punish people, but to get them to vaccinate," Karoline Edtstadler said. There will be no substitute imprisonment or coercive detention in the process, she added. Parts of the law could also be repealed by decree in case the next variant of the virus is easier or if experts say that vaccination is no longer the appropriate remedy, Edtstadler said.

BKA Federal Chancellery of Austria