With Omicron Spreading, Many Countries Consider a Vaccine Mandate like Austria

More+More+ ♦ Published: December 6, 2021; 00:20 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Omicron variation has reignited the debate over and the introduction of mandatory vaccination. The challenges, remain immense, even as some governments are trying to speed up their vaccination campaigns and are considering a vaccine mandate in the face of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Whether Omicron will lead to the wealthier countries rethinking things remains undecided.

Covid emergency transport in medical isolation box: The Omicron variation has reignited the debate over and the introduction of mandatory vaccination. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News, CC BY-SA 4.0

For months, experts all over the globe have been warning that the low vaccination rate would sooner or later lead to new mutations of the coronavirus.

All the while, epidemiologists have said that the rest of the world is not safe as long as broad segments of the population are not vaccinated.

The Omicron variation has reignited the debate over and the introduction of mandatory vaccination. 

On February 1, 2022, a general duty to vaccinate against the corona virus is to come into force throughout Austria, i.e. people are to be obliged to be vaccinated against the corona virus from that date.

In many other countries, compulsory vaccination is still being discussed as a means of combating the corona pandemic.

So far, however, compulsory vaccination for the entire adult population has been imposed relatively rarely; more often, it applies only to certain occupational groups such as nursing staff or school personnel.

The corresponding legal basis does not currently exist in Austria. The constitutional legality of this regulation is confirmed by some legal experts and doubted by others.

Compulsory vaccination for the entire adult population of a country exists in only a few states.

Compulsory corona vaccination is a novelty in Western Europe, as no European state has considered such a measure except for the Vatican City State and Austria.

The compulsory vaccination includes an obligatory booster vaccination for persons who have already been vaccinated.

However, compulsory vaccination is nothing new in Austria, which has had a law on compulsory smallpox vaccination since 1948, combined with an administrative penalty for non-compliance.

Administrative penalties are also planned with respect to the 2022 Corona vaccination requirement. Fines of up to €3,600 for vaccination refusers and up to €1,500 for people who fail to attend a booster vaccination are envisaged. Furthermore, vaccination refusers face prison sentences of up to four weeks if they do not comply with the new law.

The legal basis for mandatory vaccination in 2022 is still being debated in the Austrian parliament. However, approval of the new law seems likely.

Concerns about the compatibility of compulsory vaccination with fundamental rights arise with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

According to this convention, compulsory vaccination would constitute an interference with fundamental rights based on the integrity and self-determination of the individual with regard to medical interventions.

In contrast, the same legal basis implies a positive duty of the state to take appropriate measures to protect the health of the general public.

Whether the duty to vaccinate is justified remains to be determined. The first step is to determine whether compulsory vaccination is suitable for achieving the protection objective, and then to determine whether it is necessary or whether other less stringent means are available.Finally, whether the corresponding measure is appropriate.

Although vaccination interferes with the physical integrity and the right to privacy of the individual, this interference may be justified if the benefit to the population outweighs the disadvantages to the individual. It can be inferred that compulsory vaccination is permissible if it is necessary to stop the pandemic.

The effectiveness of vaccination is also a major factor. The lack of success of voluntary vaccination can also justify compulsory vaccination. In addition, the assessment of mandatory vaccination also depends on how dangerous and contagious the disease is and whether there is a risk of hospital capacity overload without mandatory vaccination.

As things stand, the majority view is that mandatory covid vaccination is legally permissible.

The Omicron variant has also restoked the debate on vaccine equity.

As of today, 8.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, with 54.9 percent of the global population having received at least one dose.

While 34.4 million vaccines were then being administered daily, only 6.2 percent of people in low-income countries had received at least a first vaccine, according to official reports from national health agencies

Significant quantities of vaccine only began arriving in most developing countries far too late, with countries such as Austria having bought up the supplies available over an extended period. And the amount of vaccine now being delivered still isn’t sufficient to cover the majority of the population.

Recently, though, an additional problem has appeared: In the last several weeks, more doses of vaccine have suddenly arrived in economically weaker countries than in the preceding year combined. Frequently, these deliveries arrive with very little advance notice, and sometimes just a few weeks before the vaccine’s expiration date.

Wealthy countries are eager to get rid of surplus, and they also enjoy posing as generous donors.

As reported by Vindobona, Bosnia and Herzegovina for instance had to throw out an unknown amount of the 500,000 AstraZeneca Covid vaccination doses that had been donated by Austria in a show of solidarity.

This donation was the second-largest donation to a single country that Austria has made so far, only behind the one million doses given to Iran.

AstraZeneca vaccines expire after six months. Given that the doses donated from Austria expired in October and November, the Bosnian authorities only had a few weeks to distribute the vaccines to doctors’ offices and hospitals and administer them. This was not enough time to do so, and thus some of the doses expired before they could be used.

A spokeswoman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry said that Bosnia and Herzegovina knew the expiration date prior to accepting the donation and still chose to accept them. Regardless of whether Bosnia and Herzegovina knew about the expiration date, the wasting of vaccination doses during a global pandemic is drawing criticism from many.

Numerous experts have criticized the uncoordinated manner in which international vaccine donations are being delivered from richer countries to poorer countries.

The example of Bosnia and Herzegovina throwing out so many doses highlights this problem and leaves one wondering just how many of the one million AstraZeneca doses Austria gave to Iran or the thousands it donated to other Western Balkan states also went to waste.