Austria scraps COVID vaccine mandate, says it split society

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s health minister announced Thursday that the country is scrapping a dormant coronavirus vaccine mandate, saying the measure risked polarizing society and could even lead to fewer people getting the shot.

The government announced plans last year requiring all people aged 18 and over to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the first country in Europe to do so. The law took effect in February but lawmakers suspended the mandate before police were due to enforce it in mid-March.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch said the rise of new virus variants had changed citizens’ perception of the effectiveness and necessity of a vaccination, even among those willing to get the shot.

This could deter them from voluntarily getting booster shots that will help curb the outbreak in the fall, he said.

“The vaccine mandate hinders some people who are generally willing to get the shot from taking the booster, the idea being: I’m not going to be told what to do,” said Rauch.

He said current hardships such as inflation and high energy prices, and fears surrounding the war in Ukraine, had contributed to tensions in society.

“We need every millimeter of solidarity and cohesion to cope with the coming months and years,” said Rauch. “And the debate surrounding compulsory vaccination and the hardening of positions over this question tore open rifts and did away with that solidarity.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.