Austria has announced plans to give Covid-19 vaccine recipients an almost one-in-three chance to win a €500 (£415) gift voucher while MPs voted to fine those who decline it, as the Alpine republic implements its “carrot and stick” strategy for overcoming reluctance to take the jab.
The conservative-green coalition government of chancellor Karl Nehammer on Thursday morning unveiled what it called its “vaccination lottery” programme, which will run from 15 March until the end of the year and cost the government approximately €1.4bn.
Under the scheme, Austrians will receive a ticket for each shot of vaccine they take or have already taken, meaning those who have got their booster jab will hold three tickets. Approximately every tenth ticket will win a €500 gift voucher that can be redeemed in shops, restaurants, tourism and at cultural or sporting events.
In addition, Austria is trying to encourage local authorities to promote the immunisation programme by tying vaccination rates to additional funding. Nehammer cited an example whereby an administrative district with a population of 3,000 would be rewarded with €30,000 if it managed to jab 80% of its population – or €120,000 for a 90% rate.
About 72% of Austria’s population are considered fully immunised after receiving either a booster shot or their second dose within the last six months, one of the lower rates in western Europe.
Critics say the vaccination lottery programme is at odds with a general vaccination mandate due to be phased in from February, under which people who refuse to have a jab are fined up to €3,600.
The lower house of Austria’s parliament on Thursday afternoon voted 137-33 to make vaccines mandatory for all adults except for pregnant women and people who are advised against vaccination on health grounds.
If, as is expected, the law is also approved by the upper house, on 3 February, it will come into immediate effect but will not be enforced until mid-March, and even then only through spot checks.
Initial fines of €600 can increase up to €3,600.
Because of logistical challenges, a systematic enforcement of the vaccine mandate, drawing on Austria’s digital vaccination registry, will not be possible until April. By then, the government said, it hoped to have achieved a high enough pickup among the population to make such enforcement redundant.