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Why are foreigners in Switzerland reluctant to get the Covid vaccine?

Foreigners in Switzerland are inoculated against Covid at a lower rate than the Swiss-born. Here's why.

A man holds a sign which says 'you can't vaccinate freedom' at an anti-Covid protest
Not everyone who is unvaccinated is a Covid sceptic, although foreigners have a much lower rate of vaccination. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Foreigners in Switzerland are vaccinated at a lower rate than their Swiss-born counterparts, with the rate particularly low among immigrants from Balkan states. 

The rate of unvaccinated people among immigrants from southeastern Europe is almost twice as high as for Swiss citizens.

new survey carried out by the Sotomo research institute on behalf of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation shows the reluctance to roll up the sleeves is particularly widespread among people from the Balkans.

Here’s what you need to know. 

What is the vaccination rate of foreigners in Switzerland? 

Around 25 percent of Swiss residents are foreigners. In total, foreigners are vaccinated at a lower rate than their Swiss-born counterparts, although the rate of vaccination varies considerably depending on where people are from. 

EXPLAINED: How to get the flu vaccine in Switzerland

The Sotomo survey, published on Wednesday, showed that 90 percent of people from North America – i.e. both the United States and Canada – have had both shots, while a further five percent are vaccinated once. 

Foreigners from northern Europe have had either one or both doses at a rate of 84 percent, while for German speakers the rate is 76 percent. 

79 percent of South Americans have been vaccinated at least once for Covid. 

The rate of Swiss-born people who have had at least one dose of the vaccine in the survey is 78 percent. 

At the other end of the spectrum, 52 percent of people from the Balkans have had both jabs and a further six percent have had one. In total, 37 percent of people from the Balkans said they will never get the vaccine, compared to 20 percent of Swiss. 

The rate of people with at least one shot is also low from Africa (66 percent), eastern Europe (65 percent) and southern Europe (70 percent). 

The Portuguese too are much less willing to get the jab than their Swiss counterparts, the survey found, which is somewhat surprising considering Portugal’s high rate of vaccination.

In Portugal, 89 percent of people have had one shot, while 87 percent are fully vaccinated. 

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Why are foreigners reluctant to get vaccinated? 

The survey itself did not go into why people may be reluctant to get the jab, although a number of theories have been put forward. 

Arber Bullakaj, a Swiss MP born in Kosovo, told Swiss tabloid Blick “the desire to be vaccinated has nothing to do with nationality”.

Many foreigners are less familiar with the Swiss health system and perform a variety of manual jobs, which makes it harder to get time to get vaccinated. 

“They therefore had less access to the campaign and are less flexible in their vaccination schedule,” Bullakaj said. 

He points out that the age structure of migrants is different from that of the population as a whole. They are younger, and fewer people in this age group get inoculated, regardless of nationality.

He said vaccination campaigns needed to do more to target people in these demographics. 

READ MORE: Switzerland’s Covid cases are soaring again. Here’s why

“The authorities’ vaccination campaigns are too little targeted at the working population, young people and migrants, who are disproportionately represented in the first two groups.”

Political scientist Nenad Stojanović, from the University of Geneva, agreed, saying socio-demographic considerations were more indicative of low vaccination rates than nationality as a sole factor. 

This may explain why Americans and Canadians in Switzerland are almost completely vaccinated despite these countries having a 66 percent and 79 percent rate of people with at least one shot respectively. Similarly, it may explain the divergence in relation to people from Portugal. 

Also, the Sotomo survey found that people with less education and lower income are generally more reluctant to get vaccinated, and many immigrants fall into this category.

READ MORE: Zurich to set up ‘vaccination village’ at main train station

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Can children be vaccinated without parental consent in Switzerland?

A vaccine-skeptic parent in Aargau was forced by a court to vaccinate her child. Whether for Covid or otherwise, what are the rules in Switzerland?

Can children be vaccinated without parental consent in Switzerland?

In late February, a Swiss court handed down an order requiring a mother to vaccinate her child against several childhood diseases including diphtheria. tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and pneumococci.

The mother, a vaccination sceptic who believed all forms of vaccination constitute bodily harm, was engaged in a dispute with the child’s father, who wanted the child vaccinated. 

On the basis of consultations with the child’s doctor, the Chamber for the Protection of Children and Adults in the Aargau Supreme Court dismissed the mother’s complaint.

Child vaccinations could only be avoided on doctor’s advice, the court held, saying the studies and arguments the mother produced “lacked evidence”. 

The court held she faced up to CHF10,000 in fines if she refused to have her child vaccinated. 

What are the rules in Switzerland?  

Do parents need to consent for their children to be vaccinated?

No. In the midst of the Covid pandemic, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset confirmed to parliament that parental consent is not required in order for children to be vaccinated, whether for Covid or otherwise. 

While some parents, particularly those who are sceptical about vaccines, may be dismayed by the decision, the position is valid in Swiss law.

READ MORE: How to register for the coronavirus vaccine in your Swiss canton

Children aged 12 and over can decide whether they want to be vaccinated, while parents can be compelled with fines to vaccinate their children under that age. 

Berset said minors from the age of 12 and up were “largely capable of judgement” and therefore can make their own decisions with regard to vaccinations, provided they are mentally healthy and conscious.

Where a child from the age of 12 satisfies this standard “no parental or legal guardian consent is required”.

Parents are only allowed to have a say on whether their child gets vaccinated if the child is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make the decision.

“Only if a child or a young person is incapable of judgment do the owners of parental authority have to give consent to the vaccination,” concludes Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health.