The National Council of Austria Thursday passed a bill making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all adults in the country. If approved by the upper house and signed into law by the President, the bill will come into force on February 1, making Austria the first European country to introduce a vaccine mandate.
The Austrian government first announced its plans for a country-wide vaccination mandate in November 2021, merely days after imposing a lockdown that applied only to unvaccinated citizens. This spurred huge protests across the country, forcing the government to make substantial changes to the proposed vaccination mandate. Subsequently, the lower house of the parliament passed the bill’s final version by a 137-33 vote.
Starting from mid-March, people who refuse to take the vaccine may risk penalties of up to €3,600 under the new law. However, the bill creates an exemption for pregnant women and people who cannot take the jab for medical reasons. In addition, it also exempts people who have recovered from Covid-19 in the previous six months.
Moreover, the government also passed a resolution announcing incentives to encourage unvaccinated people to take the vaccine. It has earmarked €1.4 billion to implement these measures. The incentives include a nationwide vaccination lottery, under which Austrians will receive a ticket for every shot of vaccine they take, with approximately every tenth ticket winning a €500 gift voucher.
Furthermore, to incentivize local authorities to promote vaccinations, the government has announced additional funding for municipalities with higher vaccination coverage. The government will also compensate the local authorities for vaccination-related expenditure.
However, the far-right Freedom Party has fiercely opposed the bill. Leader of the Freedom Party Herbert Kickl said, “the mandate paves the way to totalitarianism in Austria.”
The bill, if enacted, is scheduled to remain in effect until January 2024.