‘A last resort’: Switzerland’s incoming president Cassis on mandatory vaccination

Incoming Swiss president Ignazio Cassis, a trained doctor, said “mandatory vaccination can be useful” but said he would only support the measure “as a last resort”.

Incoming Swiss President Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In his first comprehensive interview since taking the top job, Swiss President-to-be Ignazio Cassis spoke about the country’s efforts against the pandemic. 

Cassis will take the top job from January 1st. Cassis refused to rule out mandatory vaccination, but said trying to convince people to take the jab voluntarily was the more prudent approach. 

EXPLAINED: Who is Switzerland’s new President Ignazio Cassis?

The former doctor told Switzerland’s Blick tabloid he had “learned to be patient with people who refused vaccinations” despite knowing of their safety and benefit. 

“From a purely medical point of view, a vaccination order would be necessary. But people live in our world, not robots”. 

Cassis said even appealing to people’s logic may not be effective, using smoking as an example where people make decisions to the obvious detriment of their health. 

‘Mandatory vaccination could be useful’

While Swiss politicians have repeatedly said mandatory Covid vaccinations were off the table, politicians in neighbouring Austria also made similar assertions before mandating vaccinations from February onwards. 

In Germany, where similar statements have been made by state and federal governments, the incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he will hold a parliamentary vote on mandatory vaccinations in January. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland make the Covid vaccine compulsory?

Leaning on his medical training and his several years’ experience as a cantonal doctor, Cassis said he “didn’t want to categorically rule out nationwide mandatory vaccinations (in a manner) like Austria”. 

He said his experience had shown him that part of the reason for people’s vaccine scepticism was that “vaccines were a victim of their own success”, using the example of diphtheria. 

“Those who refused the vaccination said that diphtheria no longer existed,” he said. 

“The vaccination coverage rate was over 90 percent. With that, herd immunity was achieved and we were able to lift the obligation.

“Unfortunately, we are still a long way from such a high vaccination rate at Corona.”

“Mandatory vaccinations can be useful” Cassis said, but warned it meant a “massive cut in personal freedom”. 

“You should think about mandatory vaccination only as a last resort.” 

Cassis also said that vaccination status should not be a strict criteria in triage decisions. 

READ MORE: Should vaccinated people have triage priority in Swiss hospitals?

‘Measures can also cause damage’

When asked whether he would put in place strict measurers regarding the pandemic, Cassis said his personal experience had shown him that all measures could have a negative impact and that any decision needs to take everyone’s interests into consideration. 

“Measures can also cause damage. Think of people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods; think of families who have had to homeschool children in precarious conditions” he said. 

“You can get out of whack relatively easily. Many people lose their bearings in the pandemic and appear lost. That is my big concern. Social calm and national cohesion are extremely important. “

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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?