How Denmark and Austria saw differing reactions to vaccine deal with Israel

Austria and Denmark’s leaders were in Jerusalem on Thursday to present an agreement with Israel for the development and production of future generation coronavirus vaccines. We look at the responses in Vienna and Copenhagen.

How Denmark and Austria saw differing reactions to vaccine deal with Israel
The Austrian and Danish government leaders with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their visit to Israel to complete a Covid-19 vaccine deal. Photo: Avigail Uzi/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

The three countries will launch “a research and development fund” and begin “joint efforts for common production of future vaccines”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Jerusalem news conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Denmark and Austria are both EU members, and the Israeli partnership has been notable for being an apparent break with relying solely on the European Union for securing vaccines.

READ ALSO: Austria and Denmark chided by EU ally over Israel vaccine plan

Kurz, the Conservative Austrian chancellor, had announced the alliance on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines”, leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.

Frederiksen, who leads Denmark’s Social Democratic minority government, has been less forthright in citing EU shortcomings as a motive for the deal, but did say that Denmark must “make sure that we have enough vaccines in a year’s time, and in two, three, five and ten years”.

Despite critiquing the bloc’s vaccination approval process, Kurz sought to quell concerns about the Israel trip, telling Austrian media on Friday that the project “was not directed against the EU”.

Kurz lavished praise on the Israeli leader, saying Austria was simply trying to take advantage of Israel’s experience in “defeating the virus”.

“The world admires you because of the vaccination successes. You were the first country to decide to defeat the virus,” he told Netanyahu.

“Together we must now prepare for how things will continue after the summer, after the current vaccination program.”

Kurz said other EU countries were welcome to join the framework, with Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babiš set to arrive in Israel soon.

Kurz’s efforts to speed up Austria’s lagging vaccination process have been largely praised, although he faced criticism for his comments on the EU.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton welcomed the alliance.

“I’m absolutely not afraid that this is directed against anyone – it’s just about improving global cooperation,” Breton told Politico.

European MP Peter Liese, from the centre-right European People’s Party of which Kurz is also a member, said Kurz had the chance last Autumn to play a key role in the EU’s vaccination approval – a process the Austrian chancellor has now criticised.

“I’m pretty upset with my EPP friend Kurz,” Liese told German magazine Welt.

“It is not fair to criticise the EU now. Austria took a leading role in the (development of the EU vaccine steering group)”.

Sonja Hammerschmid, from the centre-left Social Democrats, criticised Kurz’s “staging tour” as a PR exercise, saying much more money than the planned €50 million needed to be pledged if the programme was to make a difference.

“While in Austria the failures of professional crisis management are visible to everyone, the Chancellor flew abroad and went on a production tour” she said.

“If you don’t add at least a zero to it (the figure), you can’t take the sum seriously for a second in the area of ​​pharmaceutical production and clinical research.”

In Denmark, Frederiksen will have to fend off criticism from both the left and right for her decision to join the partnership, as well as for the visit to Israel itself.

Frederiksen’s government, ostensibly centre-left, is propped up by smaller left-wing parties but regularly works with the right wing to pass legislation, primarily on immigration. Much of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in its early stages, has also received broad parliamentary backing.

The leader of the opposition, centre-right Liberal party, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, called the deal with Israel and Austria “inconcrete”.

Ellemann-Jensen also criticised Frederiksen for prioritising a trip to Israel over domestic talks related to the gradual lifting of Denmark’s Covid-19 restrictions and said the meeting with Kurz and Netanyahu could have taken place digitally.

“We have something urgent going on at home. The prime minister has chosen to turn her back to it. That’s something I have little understanding for,” he told the national broadcaster DR.

The sentiment was echoed by the centre-left Social Liberal party, whose foreign policy spokesperson Martin Lidegaard said he “couldn’t comprehend” the need to travel to Israel in person.

“She could have achieved the same things with a virtual meeting without getting herself mixed up in the Israeli election campaign, without sending a negative signal to the rest of Europe and without delaying negotiations about reopening Denmark,” Lidegaard said.

Another ally, the left-wing Red Green Alliance, said it was “deeply astonished” by “what the prime minister is running around and doing in Israel. This is not something she has agreed with parliamentary parties,” parliamentary group leader Peder Hvelplund said to DR.

A common criticism of Frederiksen’s government during the pandemic has been that it has sometimes failed to offer enough transparency over its decision-making process.

READ ALSO: Danish prime minister rejects criticism over first lockdown announcement

Hvelplund additionally called Israel a “controversial choice of partner”.

“This is a country which is not ensuring vaccination of parts of the population in the occupied areas which Israel has occupied in the West Bank and Gaza,” he argued.

“At the same time, an agreement was also made (by Israel) with Pfizer in which health data of the public is systematically delivered to Pfizer as a condition for being able to vaccinate,” he said.

For Frederiksen, the imagery of her proactively trying to boost Denmark’s vaccination programme — by teaming up with a country known for the rapidity of its own roll-out — may outweigh all of those criticisms.

She defended the trip during the Jerusalem press conference and called the deal “completely necessary” for Denmark.

As at Friday, March 5th, 6.5 percent of adults in Austria have received one vaccination dose – with 3.1 percent receiving both doses. In Denmark, those figures are 8.5 and 3.3 percent respectively.

Austria and Denmark on Friday both followed France and Germany in recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s, reversing a previous decision not to approve the jab for seniors.

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What are Austria’s new Covid and RSV vaccine recommendations?

From fresh recommendations for Covid-19 jabs to a new vaccination for the RSV respiratory virus, here's what you need to know about vaccination guidelines in Austria for the autumn and winter months.

What are Austria's new Covid and RSV vaccine recommendations?

Cases of Covid-19 have been rising in recent weeks with the discovery of a new variant, and the World Health Organisation has recommended that governments make efforts to ensure their populations are up to date with vaccines.

Now the Austrian government has issued new vaccination guidelines.These concern protection against illnesses including Covid-19 and a brand new vaccination for Respiratory syncytial virus, which affects the lungs and breathing passages, commonly known as RSV. 

“In the past few weeks, the National Vaccination Committee has been intensively preparing to update the vaccination plan,” said the Austrian Health Ministry.

“New scientific findings were discussed as well as the recommendations of the European health authorities. This includes not only new recommendations for the corona vaccination, but also for vaccinations against RSV, meningococci and hepatitis A.”

READER QUESTION: Where can I get tested for Covid-19 in Austria?

The plans are still to be published in full, but here’s what we know so far.

What’s new when it comes to Covid vaccinations?

Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) has adapted its Covid-19 advice for residents living in Austria. 

The NIG says that unvaccinated people will be protected with one jab against Covid-19, with the most up-to-date vaccines. Previously up to three doses were recommended for basic immunisation. 

Meanwhile, the committee said that one top-up jab, particularly for older people and at-risk groups, was sufficient for protection this autumn and winter.

Pfizer and Moderna have both developed new vaccines which target the most recent strains of the Covid virus, known as XBB.1.5, and the European Medicines Agency approved these for use within the EU on August 30th.

The adapted vaccine is expected to be released in Austria this week. 

Why is only one injection needed when more were recommended previously?

Experts say that the population has built up strong immunity against coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

“The immunity of the population enables a new vaccination recommendation,” said the Austrian Health Ministry. 

“For the best possible protection against a severe course of the disease from Covid-19, one vaccination in the coming autumn is sufficient – regardless of whether basic immunisation has already been carried out,” said the Health Ministry.

“In line with the recommendations of the European health authorities, it can be assumed that previously unvaccinated people will also be adequately protected by a single vaccination with the new variant vaccines.”

A Covid-19 vaccination and test center in Austria.

A Covid-19 vaccination and test centre in Austria during the pandemic. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Health Minister Johannes Rauch added: “Even if we have largely left the corona pandemic behind us, the virus is still there.

“After three years of the pandemic, however, the framework conditions have changed significantly: immunity is significantly higher, vaccines and Covid-19 drugs are available to us. It is still the case that vaccination is the best protection. From serious illnesses and from Long Covid.”

Experts urged people to speak to their GPs to get advice.

Katharina Reich, Austria’s Director General for Public Health, said: “With the existing immunity within the population, one vaccination will in future be sufficient for effective protection against serious illnesses.

“I recommend everyone to get information from their doctor in good time.”

Who should get a top-up Covid vaccination?

Austria’s National Vaccination Committee recommends that everyone over the age of 12 receive a jab in autumn with the updated vaccines. 

Vaccination is particularly recommended for people over the age of 60, people who are at increased risk of developing severe illness with Covid and health workers.

Babies can also get the vaccination after a consultation with a doctor. 

Vaccines in Austria are available from many doctors as well as public vaccination points. 

Vaccine against RSV available for the first time

This year, for the first time, the European Commission has approved two vaccines for RSV for adults.

Austria’s National Vaccination Panel recommends vaccinations against RSV for adults aged 60 and older.

To date, there has been no jab to protect against lower respiratory tract infections caused by RSV. The vaccines are expected in Austria in the coming weeks.

“Last autumn we clearly saw that not only corona, but also RSV and influenza cause many serious diseases that can overload Austrian hospitals,” said Health Minister Rauch. “I am therefore particularly pleased that we will have vaccines available for all three serious respiratory diseases for the first time this fall.”

When it comes to Influenza (flu), people in Austria can get a top-up jab every autumn/winter, with many adults paying a fee for it. Arrange a consultation with your doctor to see if any vaccinations are recommended to you. 

The National Vaccination Committee has also updated the previous recommendations for vaccinations against meningococci and hepatitis A.

Vaccination against hepatitis A is no longer generally recommended, instead it is only recommend only under certain conditions, such as for travel.

Meanwhile, in future vaccination against meningococci ACWY will also be recommended from the age of one, replacing the vaccination against meningococci C.