Austria is dropping its vaccination mandate, four months after becoming the first EU country to make injections compulsory for all adults and as infection rates across Europe rise again.
The controversial law was introduced amid great international interest in February but has never been enforced. He has been suspended since March.
Austrian Health Minister Johannes Rauch said he saw the need for compulsory vaccinations when the Delta variant dominated in the country.
“But Omicron changed the rules,” said the Green Party politician. Since infections with the now-dominant strain tended to be milder and vaccines seemed less effective at preventing infection, convincing people to get their first shot became more difficult.
“The vaccine mandate won’t convince anyone to get vaccinated,” he said, citing studies showing that those who were already skeptical of vaccines had not been swayed by the threat of fines.
The Vaccines Act originally provided that people over the age of 18 who refused to be vaccinated faced penalties of up to €3,600 (£3,000), unless they are pregnant or seriously ill.
“The vaccine mandate and the debate around the vaccine mandate have opened deep divisions in Austrian society,” Rauch said. At a time when the war in Ukraine, rising household costs and the energy crisis were straining social cohesion, “every millimeter of solidarity and unity” was needed.
Austria, like other European countries, is currently experiencing a significant increase in new Covid-19 infections as most restrictions across the continent have been lifted and immunity begins to wane.
According to scientific aggregator Our World in Data, the seven-day rolling average of new confirmed cases per million inhabitants is increasing in countries such as Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Portugal saw the most dramatic surge, with infections per million at a seven-day average of 2,043 on Monday – the second-highest rate of new cases in the world, although down slightly from a peak of 2,878 at the beginning of June.
In Austria, confirmed cases have been rising steadily since early June, although infections remain far from the country’s highest surge in March. The situation in the country’s intensive care units is comparable to the low occupancy levels of last summer.
Around 74% of Austria’s adult population is vaccinated against the virus, a rate that has stagnated since early March.
The gradual introduction of the country’s vaccination mandate was watched with great interest in Germany, where Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition government had announced its intention to follow Austria’s lead.
But plans for a comparable spring vaccination mandate began to falter in February, when a growing number of politicians signaled they would withdraw support in parliament. On April 7, the Bundestag rejected a general vaccination mandate by 378 votes to 296.