Protest Vienna
© Michael Gruber/Getty Images
COVID protests in Vienna, December 4, 2021
New legislation in Austria will create a central COVID-19 vaccination register to record all vaccinated and vaccine-exempt people, fining people who don't fall into either group as much as 3,600 euros, or $4,000 every three months.

The new measures will take effect on February 1. Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the vaccination register will be checked every three months, with the first cutoff date being March 15.

Government authorities will send letters to unvaccinated people who are unexempt at these three-month intervals reminding them to get the vaccine or a doctor-issued exemption by the next cutoff date. If they refuse, they will be fined until they comply.

While the law said fines could reach up to 3,600 euros per fine, the government said it would take people's finances into consideration. If people get vaccinated in the meantime, legal action will be dropped.

Mueckstein said people who are pregnant, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months and who can't get vaccinated due to medical conditions are exempt. People who fall into those groups will have to record their exemption on the vaccination register.

Comment: This requirement obligates a person to divulge personal medical information, trampling any right to medical privacy.

Austria, where currently 68 percent of the population is vaccinated, will be the first European country to implement a general vaccine mandate.

Austria's vaccination rate is comparatively low rate for Western Europe. Neighboring Germany, where the rate is just over 69 percent, also is eyeing the introduction of a general vaccine mandate early next year, though plans have yet to be drawn up and officials say they will let lawmakers vote according to their conscience rather than along party lines.

The announcement from Austria that it would introduce a general vaccine mandate came on November 19 — at the same time the government decided to lock down the country to curb a surge of new infections. That lockdown is due to end on Sunday, though restrictions will remain for unvaccinated people.

Karoline Edtstadler, the Cabinet minister responsible for constitutional issues, said:
"We still have an obligation and a need to increase vaccination coverage so that we don't go from lockdown to lockdown, next year as well. There are still well over a million Austrians who aren't vaccinated. That is too many. I say very clearly that we don't want to punish the people who aren't vaccinated. We want to bring them along, we want to convince them of this vaccination and we want them to show solidarity with everyone so that we can regain our freedom."

Comment: Having to 'regain freedom' is precisely why one does not give it away. It may never thereafter equal what was lost.

The country's seven-day infection rate has declined during the lockdown. It stood at 432.6 new cases per 100,000 residents on Thursday, down from more than 1,100 on the day the lockdown started.