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‘Mandatory light’: Will Switzerland introduce ‘opt out’ vaccination?

A sign says 'vaccination 3'
Would a more proactive vaccination campaign work in Switzerland? Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP
So-called ‘opt out’ vaccination has been successful elsewhere. Will it be introduced in Switzerland?

Nicknamed ‘mandatory vaccination light’ by Swiss media, authorities are considering a new vaccination scheme to encourage people to get the jab. 

Swiss politician Cédric Wermuth suggested in parliament in early December the Covid-19 law be amended to allow for opt-out vaccination. 

The plan would make vaccination the ‘default setting’, with people then needing to take steps in order to remain unvaccinated. 

In countries and regions where it has been introduced it has been successful, while it also has a range of practical and legal benefits. 

How would such a scheme work? 

Under the plan, people would be informed by letter that they have an appointment to get vaccinated. 

This could be a particular appointment with their GP or doctor, or it could be a time window in which they can visit a vaccination centre. 

The letter will also include information about the vaccine and its effectiveness, along with phone numbers and/or email addresses people can call if they have further questions. 

It would then be up to the person to cancel the appointment or postpone the appointment if they do not want to attend. While some countries have considered fines or other penalties, this is as yet not on the table in Switzerland. 

Has this scheme been used elsewhere? 

Health authorities in several countries have seen the benefit of an opt out scheme, although many were held back from putting it in place on a widespread basis due to a shortage of vaccines early in the campaign. 

Parts of Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom have adopted schemes of this nature. 

In one region in Sweden, the opt out scheme was effective in boosting the overall vaccination rate from 49 percent to 67 percent. 

Why would such a scheme be helpful?

Proponents of the plan note that while it will not convert hardcore anti-vaxxers, it may be effective in convincing the sections of the population who find the process difficult, tiring or overawing to get the jab. 

Experts have noted that ‘vaccination laziness’ or people simply not having enough time to organise a jab is responsible for a considerable percentage of the population not getting the jab. 

An opt out plan is also a way in which health officials can take a more personalised and active role in encouraging people to get the jab, which is especially effective in communities which feel that they are underserved or disregarded. 

Some regions have also used the scheme to target particular risk groups, i.e. people aged over a certain age. 

The plan also overcomes some of the confusion surrounding exactly how to get a vaccination, i.e. what documentation is necessary. 

With Switzerland’s cantonal system, actually making an appointment to get the jab has been confusing at times throughout the pandemic. 

Would it work in Switzerland? 

Another possible advantage of the plan is that it would strongly encourage vaccination without amounting to compulsory vaccination, which is currently not allowed under the Swiss Constitution. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland make the Covid vaccine compulsory?

Whether it would be introduced would be up to the cantons. 

Wermuth ultimately withdraw his application saying the “technical and administrative effort was too great”, but the idea has won support. 

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said while he thought the plan was a “good idea”, it may be held back by data protection concerns. 

“Nevertheless, it seems to us to be a good idea,” Berset said in response to Wermuth’s motion. 

“What I can do to move forward would be to intervene again with the cantons so that they can see what else they can do within the framework of the existing laws.”

In Solothurn, letters targeted at individual communities were sent out encouraging people to get vaccinated. While it is difficult to see how successful this campaign was on its own, Solothurn does have one of the country’s higher vaccination rates which sits above the national average. 


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