Austria’s compulsory vaccination: a stab in the back for liberal democracy.

It’s a strange and disorientating thing to think back to the pre-pandemic world and consider the length and breadth of the bizarre period we have since lived through. No more so than in considering the changing role of global governments in attempting to protect their populations and economies from the almighty human impacts of COVID-19.

As somebody who considers themselves slap-bang in the middle of the authoritarian versus libertarian belief scale, I have been open and largely in agreement with government bodies imposing the most necessary restrictions upon our civil liberties over the past 18-months for a greater good. Separately to this, however, I , and I believe the majority of my peers, have stood firm by the ultimate freedom to choose whether or not to allow a foreign, artificial substance in the form of a vaccine to be injected into the individual’s bloodstream or not.

Let me make it clear this principle is not in any way, shape, or form from an “anti-vax” perspective, I chose to have my two jabs. No, this view stems only from a fundamental belief that in a genuinely liberal democracy, such choices should only be undertaken when the individual has the access and ability to consider for themselves, a range of official and politically neutral reports and safety information, resulting from strict efficacy tests. As well as, from the belief that an essential element of liberal democracy is the unconditional upholding of religious, spiritual, and intellectual freedom, regardless of any perceived efficacy within secular science.

Due to this outlook and evaluation, I was so frustrated and saddened to hear last month the Austrian government would be making COVID-19 vaccinations a legal requirement for all its citizens ,with the exemption of those with pre-existing medical conditions preventing them from doing so, from February 1st – the consequence of disobedience being a hefty financial penalty or even a prison sentence. While I do not agree with the compulsory vaccination legislation imposed upon public health and care workers seen across several European nations including Britain, I can at least see some ethical rationale in it.

Conversely, while I do not agree with my Christian and Muslim friends’ religion-based reasons for not taking the vaccine, I wholeheartedly respect their right to hold them. This decision is not ethically sound nor one of political conviction. The best national case studies of high vaccine uptake, in countries such as Britain, Australia, and Chile, show just how successful a public medical campaign of persuasion within a democratic country can be. Such countries have effectively provided their citizens with a wide range of information needed for the individual to access this against their personal ethical beliefs and lived experiences. This should be seen as an overwhelming success of democratic and liberal values in practice.

Austria’s vaccination take-up currently stands at 66% of the total adult population, compared to Britain’s 89.9%. However, it is worth considering the fact Austria is a much more religious country than the UK, with 88% of its population declaring they subscribed to a religion, compared to around just 27% in the UK. Such information should ring alarm bells in the face of religious and spiritual leaders around the world.

The Austrian government has – and will continue to face – an increasingly aggressive and riotous response to such authoritarian legislation by its own citizens and has set a dangerous and vehemently hypocritical precedent for liberal democracy around the globe. Knowingly during a time when its foundations have over recent years, and continue to be, significantly tested.

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Jamie Bryson

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January 2022
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