Austria targets hard-hit area with shots to battle variant

BERLIN — Austria is embarking on an ambitious drive to inoculate residents of a district that has been particularly hard-hit by the virus variant first found in South Africa, a move that is part of a research project into vaccinations.

Some 48,500 of the 64,000 people eligible for vaccinations in Tyrol province’s Schwaz district have signed up to be vaccinated in the drive that starts Thursday, according to the Austrian news agency APA.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said the rollout will offer vaccine jabs to all people 16 and over.

The district, east of the provincial capital of Innsbruck and home to about 84,000 people, has been a source of concern for weeks. As of last week, it accounted for 66 of 88 active confirmed cases of the more transmissible variant in the province, APA reported.

The variant first identified in South Africa is a source of particular concern because of doubts over whether all vaccines currently available are fully effective against it.

Announcing the plan last week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said it was Austria’s “opportunity to eliminate the variant in the Schwaz district.”

In preparation for the drive, the district has received a special tranche of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the European Union. It will be administered at 26 different facilities set up in the area’s 39 municipalities.

The Schwaz vaccination plan is part of a research project into vaccinations and the South African variant. National and international medical and virology experts will be on hand as observers.

At day’s end, compulsory tests for anyone leaving Tyrol province will be ended, but such tests for people leaving Schwaz will remain in place for another two weeks. Checks will take place at 14 different control points, APA reported.

Austria has seen more than 475,000 cases of COVID-19 with nearly 8,600 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. More than 650,000 vaccine doses have been administered in the country of almost 9 million people.

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