Austrian Jewish community leader apologizes for wrongly administered COVID vaccines


BERLIN (JTA) — The head of Austria’s Jewish community has apologized for COVID-19 vaccine doses that were administered to community members, including himself, who were not meant to receive them.

In a letter to the community released Monday, Oskar Deutsch said it was a “mistake” to have included nonpriority individuals in the vaccinations administered on Dec. 30 at the Maimonides Center, the Jewish community’s senior home.

It “should not have happened,” Deutsch said. “I myself was invited to receive an inoculation and didn’t refuse. That was a mistake and I apologize.”

The city of Vienna and the Red Cross had teamed up to provide doses to residents and staff of nine senior centers in the city. The doses were meant for older people at greater risk of serious illness from the coronavirus and not for the broader community.

In his letter, Deutsch said the Maimonides Center had 30 doses left over after 343 residents and staffers were vaccinated. The surplus, he said, resulted from the fact that “vaccination readiness” was lower than expected among staff at the home and that each vial contained up to seven doses instead of the intended five.

“All residents and employees who wanted to be vaccinated were vaccinated,” Deutsch wrote.

When the surplus was ascertained, the center’s medical director, Dan Seidler, reached out to ”people from outside the building,” Deutsch said — including elderly community members, physicians and others with preexisting conditions. Deutsch said those invitations led to vaccinations being administered to the grandchildren of community members who were not in any at-risk group.

The Vienna-based Association of Bukharan Jews, Jachad, called Deutsch’s apology “lip service” and suggested he resign his post.

“Especially in these particularly difficult and challenging times, it is essential to put the ‘we’ ahead of the ‘I’ and to show solidarity,” the group’s chairman, Israel Abramov, wrote. “The fact that President Deutsch is misusing this vaccination campaign for his own immunization does enormous damage to the integrity of the office. … [He] should now … draw the necessary conclusions from this moral lapse.”

An email to the board of the Vienna Jewish community signed by several prominent Austrian Jews suggested that the board consider possible “consequences” for the community leaders who were responsible, including resignations.

In the wake of the scandal, the Jewish community launched a “nonbinding” reservation system in which community members older than 65 and others with preexisting conditions can register to be vaccinated.

Micha Kaufman, the director of the Maimonides Center, said in a statement that the actions were taken to avoid wasting vaccine doses.

“After it became clear that we we will have more vaccines than people to vaccinate in house, we started calling in Shoah survivors, we asked doctors to bring in their most vulnerable patients and themselves, and finally we also called the president and anybody we could reach in order to not waste vaccines,” Kaufman said. “We had to finish vaccinating the very same evening. All procedures were taken in accordance with the present representatives of the authorities and according to the guidelines of the health ministry.”

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