In November 2021, social media posts and news reports claimed that Austria’s federal government had broken new ground in its efforts to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic — reportedly announcing a universal, mandatory vaccination program, to begin in early 2022.
Those reports were largely accurate, and we are issuing a rating of “True.” In a press conference on the afternoon of Nov. 19, the country’s Federal Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the major policy shift marked a transition from an approach of attempting to convince and coax vaccine skeptics, to “quickly introducing nationwide mandatory vaccination,” which he said would begin on Feb. 1, 2022.
Schallenberg went on:
For a long time — perhaps too long —I and others assumed it would be possible to persuade people in Austria to voluntarily get vaccinated, that we could persuade them for their own protection, and for the protection of those around them, their loved ones, friends and co-workers. But we must confront the reality.
Austria has seen an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, prompting the federal government to initiate a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated individuals aged over 12 years old, which began on Nov. 15.
With cases continuing to rise, however, Schallenberg’s coalition government — composed of his center-right Austrian People’s Party and the center-left Greens — announced a new, universal lockdown, affecting both unvaccinated and vaccinated Austrians, to begin on Monday, Nov. 22.
The new lockdown would last until Dec. 13, at the latest, the chancellor said, but would be reviewed after 10 days and could potentially be lifted, for vaccinated Austrians, after Dec. 2. Unvaccinated residents would continue to be restricted in their movements, even after the lockdown ends for their vaccinated neighbors.
At the press conference, Schallenberg said “radical vaccine opponents” and the proliferation of “spurious fake news” had contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Austria, and he blamed “political forces” for “fighting against the measures being taken” — an apparent dig at Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, which has vehemently opposed mass vaccination and lockdown measures.
According to the chancellor, the consequences of this relatively widespread vaccine hesitancy — only 64% of Austrian residents were fully vaccinated as of Nov. 19 — were dire: “Overcrowded intensive care units and enormous human suffering.”
Federal Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein told the press conference that the government would “work out the details” of the mandatory vaccination program, over the following weeks, but noted that “numerous constitutional lawyers” had already signed off on the constitutionality of such a policy.
While several national and regional governments have made COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for certain cohorts of workers, Austria is the first European country to mandate vaccination for all residents, regardless of their movements, public activities, or employment status. According to Reuters, only Indonesia, Micronesia, and Turkmenistan have imposed similarly comprehensive restrictions.
Bundeskanzler Alexander Schallenberg zu neuerlichen Einschränkungen: Wir müssen der Realität ins Auge sehen – Bundeskanzleramt Österreich. https://www.bundeskanzleramt.gv.at/bundeskanzleramt/nachrichten-der-bundesregierung/2021/11/bundeskanzler-alexander-schallenberg-zu-neuerlichen-einschraenkungen-wir-muessen-der-realitaet-ins-auge-sehen.html. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.
COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker | European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. https://vaccinetracker.ecdc.europa.eu/public/extensions/COVID-19/vaccine-tracker.html#uptake-tab. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.Foundation, Thomson Reuters. “Countries Making COVID-19 Vaccines Mandatory.” News.Trust.Org, https://news.trust.org/item/20210804140458-ari9l/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.