Austria to get extra vaccines, study South African variant hotspot

Mass vaccination programme for healthcare workers in Vienna
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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will receive an extra 100,000 doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to administer to all adults in a hotspot of the South African variant and carry out a study there on the drug's efficacy, the government said on Wednesday.

Last month, Austrian authorities made a negative coronavirus test compulsory to leave the Alpine province of Tyrol, which has one of Europe's worst outbreaks of the South African virus variant. Studies suggest existing coronavirus vaccines could be less effective against that variant.

Austria is part of the European Union's vaccine purchase programme and the European Commission has agreed to grant it the extra doses, which it plans to administer to all adults in the Tyrolean district of Schwaz, the area hardest hit by the variant, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference.

"Our goal must be to extinguish as best we can this variant, which represents a threat for us, not only in Tyrol but in all of Austria," Kurz said. He added that the number of active cases in Tyrol had fallen to fewer than 100 from a peak of around 200.

An international study will also be carried out in Schwaz to determine "whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is as effective against the South African variant as we expect", Kurz said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)