Austria suspended its mandatory vaccine for those over the age of 18 the day before the requirement was scheduled to go into effect.
The government attributed the change to the current state of the pandemic and its decreased threat to public health.
The March 8 reversal does not entirely end the mandate. Instead, the policy has been suspended and will be reviewed in June. It is possible it will be reinstated if another surge of the virus hits the country,
The mandate, which was passed by parliament in February, was announced by the right-wing opposition Freedom Party as a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights, per The Irish Times.
Under the policy, anyone over the age of 18 in the country had to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be fined up to €3,600 (about $3,956 USD). The seriously ill and pregnant women were exempt.
While the mandate has been in effect since Feb.5, Austrians had until March 15 to comply.
According to Reuters, “it has done little to raise one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, and scepticism about it has grown since restrictions barring the unvaccinated from places such as bars and restaurants have been scrapped in most of Austria.”
Beginning on March 15, law enforcement would have asked for proof of vaccination during traffic stops and while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
Karoline Edtstadler, Austria’s minister for constitutional affairs, told parliament on March 8 that a recent government commission report made “many arguments that the encroachment on fundamental rights is not justified.”
The four-member commission wrote that the mandate was no longer appropriate given current caseloads.
“Just as the virus is very flexible, we have to be flexible and adaptable,” Edtstadler said. “I don’t think I need a crystal ball to tell you that today’s isn’t the last chapter we will write regarding the vaccination mandate.”
Health Minister Johannes Rauch had urged people over the summer to get vaccinated regardless of any federal regulations.
Austria was the first country in the European Union to make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for adults. The policy was announced in November.
The change “comes as nearly 48,000 new infections were announced in Austria, more than at any time since the pandemic began,” reports the BBC. “More than 2,500 people are being treated in normal hospital wards and 182 in intensive care, but the Omicron variant has not led to a surge in admissions as feared.”