Austrian mayors who got leftover Covid vaccines accused of 'queue-jumping'

Local governments officials in Austria have been accused of jumping the queue for Covid-19 vaccinations at care homes for elderly people, prompting the Alpine state’s government to clarify guidelines for handling leftover doses.

In the western federal state of Vorarlberg, the 65-year-old mayor of the town of Feldkirch received a first jab of the BioNTech vaccine at a care home even though Austria’s national vaccination strategy calls for a prioritisation of residents, employees and medical staff at such homes.

Wolfgang Matt said he merely waited in line in case there was a leftover dose once all priority candidates had been injected with the vaccine. “I wouldn’t throw out stale bread either but use it to make toast”, he told public broadcaster ORF.

The care facility’s regular doctor, Susanne Furlan, disputed this version of events, saying there had been several candidates in the high-risk category who should have been prioritised for the leftover 14 doses. “There were so many people waiting outside who would have needed a vaccine more urgently”, said the Furlan, who refused to personally administer the vaccine to the mayor.

The care home’s director defended the proceedings, saying Matt paid regular visits to his facility.

Austria, which has opted to vaccinate its population via decentralised municipal structures rather than newly built vaccination centres, has reported a number of comparable cases in recent days.

In the town of Rankweil, also in the Vorarlberg state, the 44-year-old mayor, Katharina Wöss-Krall, also received a first shot of the vaccine from a leftover dose, saying: “I didn’t jump the queue, didn’t take anything from anyone.”

In Lower Austria, the mayor of the town of Eberschwang and his two deputies were vaccinated in early January, saying they jumped into the breach when appointments with care home residents were cancelled at short notice.

In Vorarlberg, the regional head of the Red Cross was admonished after authorising the vaccination not just of his employees but also their relatives.

Similar stories have surfaced in Spain: on Wednesday, the regional health minister in Murcia, south-east Spain, resigned after it emerged that he, his wife and about 400 staff in the health department had been vaccinated despite the current round of vaccinations being intended for the staff and residents of care homes, and for frontline health workers.

Austria’s government clarified its guidelines in response to the queue-jumping allegations, saying care homes should draw up priority lists for candidates in case there were leftover doses of the vaccine. When staff at a care facility were fully vaccinated, doctors should prioritise workers who paid regular visits, such as physiotherapists or hairdressers, it said.


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