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Austrian parliament passes mandatory vaccine legislation, program begins in March

Speaking in parliament on Thursday afternoon, Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

Austrian parliament passes mandatory vaccine legislation, program begins in March
AP Photo/Lisa Leutner
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Austria’s parliament has made it illegal to be unvaccinated by approving a vaccine mandate for adults, which is set to be introduced from February 1. It is the first of its kind in Europe.

On Thursday, Austrian lawmakers voted 137 to 33 in favour of the vaccine mandate, which applies to all residents of the western European country aged 18 and over.

The mandate provides exemptions for pregnant women, and people who are able to provide medical reasons to avoid vaccination or those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

According to Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung and the Associated Press, officials say that the mandate is necessary because of the country’s inability to meet expectations for its vaccination rates.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday afternoon, Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns,” said Mueckstein, who noted that the vaccine requirement isn’t only about fighting Omicron but also future variants.

“That is why this law is so urgently needed right now,” he insisted.

The Austrian government previously announced plans for a universal vaccine mandate at the same time it imposed a nationwide lockdown in November. The lockdown, which has since been lifted, was put in place to counter the Omicron surge.

According to the AP, Karl Nehammer’s governing coalition came to a deal with two out of the three opposition parties in parliament to implement the vaccine mandate. According to the law, the mandate will go into effect starting February, but the enforcement will only start in March, which will begin as authorities dispatch letters to every household to inform them of the new rules.

Starting mid-March, police will do door-to-door inspections for the vaccination status of every Austrian. Those who are unable to produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($685 USD) if they fail to do so.

The ruling government said that if the authorities judge the vaccination progress to be insufficient, they will then send reminders to those who choose to remain unvaccinated — and if that still doesn’t work, they will be sent an appointment they cannot refuse, or face fines, which could reach up to 3,600 euros ($4,074 USD) if they choose to contest it in court.

The mandate is expected to remain in place until the end of January 2024, and an expert commission will report to the government every three months to provide them with progress on the vaccinations.

According to the Associated Press, the Austrian government initially planned the mandate to apply to anyone over the age of 14, but the number was raised to 18 following pushback from opposition parties.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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