Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton, is currently lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to vaccines.
In late March, Zurich will open its vaccine registration framework to the general public – months after the majority of Swiss cantons have begun to do the same.
Zurich last in Switzerland
Zurich is placed 26th out of 26 cantons when it comes to percentage of population vaccinated.
Switzerland’s nationwide average is 15.02 percent of the population vaccinated.
Schaffhausen (17.46), Grisons (17.40), Glarus (17.26) and Basel Country (17.25) are the only other cantons to have crossed 17 percent.
At the other end of the scale is Zurich, with 12.86 percent of people vaccinated.
This is slower than Switzerland’s other large cantons like Bern (15.5 percent), Vaud (14.31 percent) and Geneva (14.09 percent).
However it’s worth noting that Zurich has still managed to vaccinate just under 200,000 people (197,925), which is the highest number of any canton in Switzerland.
Vaccine tourism in Switzerland: Zurich residents traveling to other cantons to get vaccinated
In mid-March, Switzerland’s Tages Anzeiger news site broke a story of Zurich residents travelling to the canton of Schwyz to get vaccinated.
According to the newspaper, the Einsiedeln Hospital in the neighbouring canton was not checking residency information.
Little is known about the number of Zurich residents who have been vaccinated in other cantons.
“The Einsiedeln Hospital cannot influence this data and is not obliged to check the people who are vaccinated at our centre,” a spokesperson told the Tages Anzeiger.
Swiss residents are encouraged to get the vaccine in their canton of residence but are not legally prohibited from doing so in other cantons by the federal government.
However, individual cantons and cantonal medical authorities have put in place rules to only vaccinate their own residents.
Why is Zurich’s vaccination rollout the slowest per capita in Switzerland?
From starting late to receiving fewer doses per population than any other canton – as well as a raft of logistical problems – Zurich’s vaccination rollout has been hampered from the outset.
Zurich started vaccinating on January 4th, almost two weeks after the first Swiss cantons had started administering jabs.
Members of the general public were to be vaccinated from March at large vaccination centres across the canton, however these centres will now only open in April.
When these centres hit full stride, an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people will be vaccinated across the cantons.
Another problem, as flagged by Zurich’s medical boss Nicki Rickli, is the allocation of doses provided to Zurich by the federal government.
According to Rickli, Zurich has received the fewest doses per capita of any Swiss canton due to the age of its population.
“The federal government is responsible for procuring vaccines, we have no influence on that,” she said.
“Measured by the number of inhabitants, we get the least vaccine in Switzerland.
“The federal government says we Zurich have the youngest population.”
Zurich’s size was also a problem in that it was unable to rely on other cantons for extra vaccine doses for people getting their second jab.
As reported in the NZZ, other Swiss cantons have adopted a practice of advancing vaccine doses from their neighbours to administer peoples’ second doses.
Due to Zurich’s size, the number of doses from neighbouring cantons would be too high – meaning that the rollout needed to be delayed.
During this time however, the canton has invested more money in developing a wide-ranging vaccine infrastructure which should allow Zurich to catch up.
What about the ‘vaccines in the trash’ scandal?
Due to a delivery mixup, authorities in Zurich threw away around 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine which had not been properly refrigerated.
Doses of the Moderna vaccine, along with that from Pfizer, need to be stored at minus 80 degrees.
The Zurich health department confirmed to the NZZ newspaper that around 100 doses needed to be thrown away, although this would have had little impact on the vaccine rollout.
When will the general public be vaccinated in Zurich?
Despite the delays, Zurich authorities are confident they will meet the nationwide deadline of having everyone who wants to be vaccinated get the jab by July.
With vaccine centres set to open in April and vaccinations to be carried out in pharmacies in May, things should speed up soon.
Rickli told Swiss media that the population should try and be patient.
“I see that a lot of people are desperately looking for vaccines because they fear for their lives and say that is the only way to regain their freedoms.”
However, she continues to ask the population for patience. “Before the general population can be vaccinated, it will be May or June.”