The health minister of Austria announced Thursday that the country will drop a suspended vaccination mandate for the coronavirus, saying the move could polarize society and even cause fewer people to get vaccinated.
The government announced plans last year to require everyone aged 18 and over to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the first European country to do so. The law took effect in February, but lawmakers suspended the mandate before police began enforcing it in March.
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Health Minister Johannes Rauch said the emergence of new variants of the virus had changed citizens’ perceptions of the efficacy and need for vaccination, including among those willing to get vaccinated.
That could deter them from getting the booster doses that will help control the outbreak in the fall, he said.
“The vaccine mandate makes it difficult for certain people generally willing to be vaccinated to receive the booster. They are people who say ‘Nobody is going to tell me what to do’”, Rauch said.
He said current problems such as inflation and high fuel prices, as well as fears related to the war in Ukraine, have contributed to tensions in society.
“We need every inch of solidarity and cohesion to respond to the coming months and years,” he said. “And the debate about compulsory vaccination and the hardening of positions on it opened gaps and ended that solidarity.”