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Only unvaccinated blockages come to Europe




For some time, during the worst period of the pandemic last year, European governments mostly seemed to reach a consensus. With a few exceptions (like Sweden), countries in the region shut down their economies, keeping people at home in an effort to slow the pace of infection. Over time, reinforced by multiple vaccines, the continent has seen a resumption of near-normalcy: public health restrictions have been eased and travel has resumed.

But as temperatures drop and rising cases push Europe backwards in the epicenter of the pandemic, the continent is once again being forced to face tougher measures in a desperate attempt to ease pressure on hospitals that are under strain. However, this time, European countries are no longer in a broad agreement on the best way forward.

While some countries have followed France’s lead by enforcing vaccine passports as a way to encourage people to get vaccinated, others are ready to follow the recently established alternative by Austria, which this week instructed millions to stay home in addition to essential activities, such as going to work, grocery shopping and exercise. Unlike previous national blockades, however, this only applied to one subset of the country: the unvaccinated. Yesterday, the Austrian government took a step further, announcing that the restrictions will be extended to the rest of the population for a maximum of 20 days starting next week and that vaccination will become mandatory as early as February.

The goal of both models is ultimately the same to vaccinate more people, but the differences are substantial. In France, vaccination is strongly encouraged, but not necessarily necessary. Under its vaccine-passport system, those who are not vaccinated can still enter public spaces if they can provide evidence that they have recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection, or a negative test for COVID. In Austria, the opposite has now become true: Not only are unvaccinated people (excluding those who have recently recovered from COVID and children under the age of 12) ready to be banned from public spaces even after the national blockade is over, faced fines. to 1450 euros ($ 1,640) if they do not comply, but will soon be subject to legal consequences if they refuse to take a hit.

The question facing governments in Europe and elsewhere is which carrot-to-stick approach will be most effective. By isolating the unvaccinated, Austria may succeed in increasing its vaccination rate, but it also risks further fostering vaccine skepticism.

In Austria, the unvaccinated still make up a significant portion of the population. Nearly a third of the country, or approximately 2 million people, have chosen to oppose getting a jabre result at one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. Meanwhile, the country continues to break records for daily reported cases as well as intensive care units in some parts of the country close to capacity.

To hear Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg say, this week’s drastic intervention was not designed to punish those who have not been vaccinated. Rather, it was intended to prevent those who had been vaccinated held hostage from the unvaccinated minority. Subjecting everyone to new restrictions (as the government has been forced to do now, albeit for a limited period of time) would risk undermining the incentives that forced so many people to be vaccinated in the first place. He would also fail to address the fact that the growing strain on the country’s ICUs is being driven mainly by unvaccinated patients. Austria’s neighbors are Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia announced that they will follow suit with stronger restrictions on the unvaccinated.

At some point, reality must come home: If the health care system reaches its limits, then additional steps must be taken eventually, Eva Schernhammer, head of the epidemiology department at the Medical University of Vienna, told me. In the minds of some, she said, it just doesn’t feel good [for] the government should impose measures on those who have done everything they can only to protect those who have not.

The challenge of addressing vaccination delays is what ultimately pushed French President Emmanuel Macron to mandate the use of vaccine passports earlier this year. Despite what many opponents said about the impact such a strategy would have on more vaccine-reluctant populations (mea culpa, I was one of them), this approach has been seen primarily as a success. Although France is one of the most reluctant vaccine countries in the world, it has now roughly vaccinated three quarters of its population, according to vaccine-tracking governments almost double the number of people who indicated they would be willing to take a hit at the end of last year. Although the rate of infection in the country continues to rise, it remains low compared to that of many of its neighbors.

But what worked for France did not necessarily work for Austria. Despite implementing its own vaccine-passport system this year, vaccination rates in the country have stalled, however, a trend attributed in part to high levels of vaccine reluctance in Europe. German-speaking countries, where passionate public health messages have been replaced by vocal sentiment against the vaccine and conspiracy theories. In Austria, this phenomenon is most manifested in the rise of the Party of Fundamental Rights of People’s Freedom, skeptical of vaccines (known by its German acronym, MFG), which recently received plenty of support to enter one of the country’s largest regional parliaments.

So far, unvaccinated blockade in Austria seems to have its desired effect, with some vaccination centers RECITED seeing an increase in people seeking a first dose. But it has also prompted thousands of people to protest against the new measures, which many have condemned as well DISCRIMINATORY. Now that the blockade is extending to everyone and now that vaccinations will soon become a legal requirement, those protests are likely to escalate. One danger the Austrian government faces is that these new measures could further boost support for parties such as the MFG and the far-right Freedom Party, whose leader said the new restrictions make Austria equivalent to a dictatorship. Another danger is that they may push those who are simply reluctant to take a COVID vaccine to take a tougher stance against vaccination.

One thing people really want is a level of choice, and one of the Achilles heel of vaccines has been the feeling that led by government and not by choice, Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Trust Project at the London School. Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he told me. Larson noted that although vaccine passports offer some elements of choice (in that unvaccinated people may choose to take a negative COVID test instead), only unvaccinated blockages and vaccine mandates may be seen as more punitive.

But perhaps the biggest risk for Austria now is that these measures alone will not be enough to minimize hospitalization, which is the main metric on which the government is focused. That the tightening of restrictions in recent weeks has not yet been reflected in numbers is a worrying sign, Schernhammer said.

You can set rules, but if people do not follow, then it becomes difficult to do anything, she said. We have reached an unexplored territory already, because what is happening now will be seen in the ICU in two weeks.




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