Austria plans to enforce mandatory vaccination

In order to gain as much acceptance as possible for the planned mandatory vaccination, the Austrian government is trying to bring together a kind of coalition of constructive forces. On Monday, ministers from the government of the Christian Democratic ÖVP and the Greens consulted at a "round table" with experts, as well as the leaders of two of the three opposition parties. Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP) and Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens), but also the leaders of the SPÖ and the liberal Neos spoke afterwards of a "good", "constructive", "intensive" discussion.

The FPÖ chairman Herbert Kickl was not present. Neither he nor other politicians from his right-wing party had been invited. Health Minister Mückstein justified this with the "extremely destructive approach" of this party to the topic of vaccination. Edtstadler admitted: "Of course, it hasn't all gone optimally in the past." She appealed to those who were skeptical about mandatory vaccination to rethink. She indicated that not everyone belongs to the right-wing extremists and Holocaust trivializers just because they participated in a demonstration with such. If someone "feels put in a corner," she said, it was not intentional. "The enemy is not the unvaccinated, but the virus."

A draft of how compulsory vaccination should be enshrined in law is now circulating. To be sure, the government has cautiously distanced itself from the paper, which was first quoted by the Viennese newspaper Press: There are no determinations yet, details are still open, said the two ministers who spoke after the "round table". But the authenticity was not disputed either, so the rough draft may well reflect the structure of the intended law.

Accordingly, it states, "For reasons of public health protection, persons who have a residence or habitual abode in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany are obliged to undergo vaccination against Covid-19 by the end of (date open; ed.) 2022." Medically necessary follow-up vaccinations are also mandatory. Violators face stiff administrative penalties. However, it also states, "The vaccination . . . shall not be enforced by coercion."

The amount of the fine, the age from which the obligation applies, and similar issues are apparently still under discussion. The working paper cited envisages a fine of up to 3600 euros, and up to 7200 euros in the event of multiple repetitions. Alternatively, prison sentences of up to six weeks would be imposed. Edtstadler mentioned as one option the possibility of then still averting an already imposed fine by vaccination. SPÖ chairwoman Pamela Rendi-Wagner called for a social graduation of the fines.

Importantly, under the plans, data from the electronic health record (ELGA) will probably be linked to those from the central vaccination register and used accordingly by health authorities. So far, ELGA, which was introduced in 2014, has been explicitly protected from being viewed by authorities. Similar to Germany, fundamental basic rights and freedoms have been restricted in the past year and a half to combat the pandemic, but hardly the principle of data protection.

The threat of administrative fines means vaccination refusal will not become a criminal offense. The fine can be imposed by an authority, there is no court case and no previous conviction. Of course, there is legal recourse, just as there is for traffic fines.

The obligation to vaccinate should also extend to minors. Parents or guardians will then be responsible for ensuring that this happens. The age limit is still open. It can hardly be lower than the limits set by the European Medicines Agency for the respective vaccines. Edtstadler suggested the age of 14, which is also the age of criminal responsibility. Those who are not eligible for vaccination for medical reasons would thus have to obtain a certificate from a public health officer or the medical service of the social security system.

Edtstadler and Mückstein reiterated that the law should take effect Feb. 1, 2022. The health minister assured that there should be a sufficient period of four weeks for public review, as is the normal practice in Austria after introduction to parliament. According to the working draft, the validity is to be limited to three years.

On this occasion, the coalition partners showed themselves more united than they had been for a long time. Since the resignation of Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) as Chancellor, forced by the Greens, the mood between "Turks" and "Greens" had been tense. Now, on the other hand, not only Edtstadler and Mückstein expressed agreement, but the leaders of the two coalition factions also issued a joint statement.

The reticence of Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is striking: Kurz would hardly have passed up this opportunity to make an appearance. Meanwhile, the FPÖ, which has been left out, demanded a preliminary review by the Constitutional Court and threatened to go to the European Court of Human Rights.


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