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Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other EU countries?

Although Switzerland has enough doses to inoculate all its residents against coronavirus, the country’s vaccination rate is lower than that of many other European nations. Why exactly is that?

Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other EU countries?
Switzerland’s vaccination rate trails behind its neighbours’. Photo by Seth Herald / AFP

Accustomed to top rankings in international comparisons, Switzerland is trailing behind its European neighbours and a number of other nations in terms of Covid inoculations.

While the proportion of fully vaccinated people across the EU stands at 57.21 percent, in Switzerland it is only 50.92 percent.

“I am almost ashamed that we find ourselves in this situation, when we have everything we need to do better”, Didier Pittet, head of the infection prevention service at Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG) told Watson news portal on Monday.  

There are several reasons why the Swiss numbers are not higher:

Corona-skeptic regions drag down the overall average

Some cantons exceed the national average — for example, Basel Country and Basel-City have the highest immunisation rates in Switzerland, at 54.98 and 54.96, respectively.

Next is Zurich (54.92), followed by Ticino (54.55), Bern (52.97), Zug (52.94) and Schaffhausen (52.93).

Most cantons, however, fall below the national average, with lowest rates in rural cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden (40.29), Obwalden (42.48), Glarus (43.97) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (44.14).

One of the reasons for this urban-rural divide “is that there are more people hostile to the vaccine in rural areas. Perhaps simply in part because residents in the countryside have been less affected by the pandemic”, according to analysis conducted in June by Sotomo Institute.

“Basically, cities are more willing to vaccinate. Rural cantons without urban centres are therefore noticeable because of their greater skepticism towards the corona vaccination”, study’s author Michael Hermann noted.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons have the highest and lowest vaccination rate — and why?

And “In Switzerland, many people are reluctant to vaccinate. We are, for example, the worst performers in Europe when it comes to measles vaccination”, Pittet added.

Fewer restrictions

While neighbour countries have implemented various measures which encourage vaccinations, such as Covid Certificate requirement for entry into bars, restaurants and other venues, or the compulsory inoculation for healthcare workers, Switzerland has been dilly-dallying when it comes to such measures.

At the moment, it is considering whether to make immunity passes compulsory for restaurants, bars, and other indoor places, though the decision has not yet been made.

“We are much more liberal than our neighbours. The authorities have imposed fewer constraints”, said Geneva epidemiologist Alessandro Diana.

READ MORE: Switzerland wants mandatory Covid certificates in restaurants and gyms

Freedom, individualism, experience

Diana pointed out that Switzerland “has invested a lot in the self-determination of its citizens”, the kind of freedom that encompasses the right to decide what to do (or not do) with one’s body.

And the fact that Swiss residents have not suffered during the pandemic to the same extent as their neighbours, also plays a role in the vaccine hesitancy.

“We have not known the deaths of the Italians or the confinement of the French. The consequence is that our perception of danger is lower than elsewhere”, Diana noted.

He also pointed out that the pandemic is not yet over and “for the moment, this is only intermediate data. We will have to make a point again at the end of the year, but also in ten years to draw a broader assessment. ”

Diana recommends not to dwell too much on international rankings.

“Do we really need to be the first in everything? In reality, what matters to the Federal Council is to avoid overloading the health system. It is the common thread of all political decisions. ”

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Switzerland authorises Moderna vaccine for children over six

Children between the ages of six and 11 will now be able to get a Moderna shot, Swiss health authority said.

Switzerland authorises Moderna vaccine for children over six

Until now only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved in Switzerland for this group, starting at age five.

However, on Friday the country’s drug regulatory body, Swissmedic, gave the green light to start administering Moderna’s vaccine to children over six, who will receive two half doses of 50 micrograms at an interval of four weeks.

Those over 12 and adults are injected the full dose.

The agency said that based on clinical studies, young kids react to the Moderna vaccine much like older children and adults do.

“The most commonly reported side effects such as pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, shivering or nausea, were similar to those in adolescents and young adults”. Swissmedic said.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Covid vaccines for children in Switzerland

Also, “fever occurred more frequently in children, whereas muscle and joint pains were seen less often than in adolescents or adults. The undesirable effects were generally mild to moderate and lasted for a few days”.

While some parents may be reluctant to vaccinate their children against the coronavirus, health officials say the vaccines are safe. They also argue that in order to achieve herd immunity, all age groups should have their shots.

While the number of Covid infections has dropped significantly in Switzerland in the past two months, epidemiologists are predicting a new outbreak in the fall and winter, when cooler weather drives more people indoors, where the yet-unknown variants will be more transmissible.

READ MORE: How can I get my children vaccinated against Covid in Switzerland?