Austria drops COVID vaccine mandate, says it is dividing society

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BERLIN (TUSEN) — Austria’s health minister announced Thursday that the country is dropping a dormant coronavirus vaccine mandate, saying the move risks polarizing society and could even lead to fewer people getting vaccinated.

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

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Health Minister Johannes Rauch said the rise of new variants of the virus had changed people’s perception of the effectiveness and necessity of vaccination, even among those who wanted to get vaccinated.

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

“The vaccine mandate prevents some people who are generally willing to get vaccinated from taking the booster, the idea being: I won’t be told what to do,” Rauch said.

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

“We need every millimeter of solidarity and cohesion to face the months and years to come,” Rauch said. “And the debate around compulsory vaccination and the hardening of positions on this issue have torn divisions and made this solidarity disappear.”

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