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Vaccinations in Switzerland: What jabs should you and your children get?

The topic of vaccinations is fresh in our memories due to Covid, but what about other immunisations? Here's what you need to know.

Vaccinations in Switzerland: What jabs should you and your children get?
Childhood vaccines are recommended but not compulsory in Switzerland. Photo by CDC on Pexels

As it became clear during the Covid pandemic, vaccinations — whether against coronavirus or other diseases — are not obligatory in Switzerland.

However, a number of them are highly ‘recommended’, according to the government. 

Switzerland doesn’t mandate common childhood vaccines, including those against measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and others required in many other countries around the world, including neighbours Germany, France and Italy.

The map below shows countries where childhood vaccines are required versus those, like Switzerland, where they are merely recommended.

Image: Our World in Data

Switzerland is so lax about immunisations because, pursuant to the constitutional right of each person to “self-determination”, including in matters of health, “no vaccination is compulsory in Switzerland; everyone can decide for themselves”, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

The topic of compulsory vaccinations reached a head during the Covid pandemic, with the government repeatedly saying there would be no mandatory jab order. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland make the Covid vaccine compulsory?

As usual childhood vaccines are not compulsory, a number of children begin school without having received routine immunisations recommended by health authorities (see below).

The good news is that the number of children in Switzerland who had not been vaccinated against measles has diminished in the last two decades: from 18 percent in 2000 to 4 percent in 2018 — the last year for which official statistics are available.

Image: Statista

Image: Statista

“Despite having an advanced healthcare system, Switzerland has only partially reached its objectives in terms of vaccination, both for individual protection and collective immunity” , according to FOPH.

Among the main reasons why many people avoid vaccines, or refuse to have their children vaccinated, is “because they harbour doubts about their effectiveness, or fear harmful side-effects”, FOPH said.

Which vaccines do Swiss health authorities recommend for children?

For babies, FOPH recommends the following shots:

  • Measles
  • Diphteria
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping cough
  • Polio
  • Invasive infections by Haemophilus influenzae type b (severe meningitis and laryngitis)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Pneumococci
  • Mumps
  • Rubella

For adolescents aged from 11 to 15, FOPH recommends a Hepatitis B vaccine, chicken pox (for those who have not had it earlier), as well as human papillomavirus (HPV) for girls.

It is also important to keep up with booster shots, health authorities, say: “Some vaccines, especially those against diphtheria or tetanus, do not protect against the disease for life. To benefit from long-lasting protection, the vaccine must be renewed at regular intervals. A catch-up vaccination is also necessary if the basic vaccination is deficient or incomplete, in particular to protect against tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella or whooping cough”.

READ MORE: Measles is spreading in Switzerland: Here’s what you should know about prevention

More information about which vaccines are recommended for infants and older children, as well as other vaccine-related information, can be found here in German, French and Italian

What about adults?

FOPH recommends seasonal flu vaccines, as well as Covid shots.

Also, those who have not had the full set of childhood vaccines, as outlined above, should have them as well.

“Booster vaccines at regular intervals are sometimes necessary to maintain protection against the disease in question. The FOPH thus recommends regular booster shots for the following diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. A catch-up vaccination is also necessary if the basic vaccination is deficient or incomplete, in particular for protection against measles, mumps and rubella”.

Additionally, in view of the increasing number of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme and meningoencephalitis, authorities recommend a vaccine to prevent complications from those conditions as well, especially if you often venture outdoors into grassy areas in the summer.

For more information about which vaccines are recommended for adults in Switzerland, ask your doctor or call the nationwide vaccine hotline at 0844 448 448 (in German, French or Italian).

Can unvaccinated children attend school?

Since immunisations are not mandatory in Switzerland, no public school can turn away a child because he or she had not had the recommended shots.

However, the key word here is “public”.

In 2019, for the first time in Switzerland, a network of private nursery schools called Kita ruled that all children attending their facilities must be vaccinated against at least measles and whooping cough. If parents refuse to comply, the children will be denied attendance.

Generally speaking, any private institution can deny admission to unvaccinated children as they are not held to the same standards as public schools; however, no official data shows any other private establishments following Kita’s example to date.

What if mother and father disagree about vaccinating their child?

Such situations do occur from time to time.

In 2020, Switzerland’s Federal Court ruled that if parents hold opposing views about this issue,  the final decision must be based on the recommendations of the public health authorities which, of course, favour vaccinations.

More recently, the Local reported about one such case. “In late February, a Swiss court handed down an order requiring a mother to vaccinate her child against several childhood diseases”.

“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”. 

READ MORE: Can children be vaccinated without parental consent in Switzerland?

Can children be vaccinated without parental consent?

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.

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

“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,” FOPH said.

Where in Switzerland can you vaccinate your child?

For babies born in Switzerland, shots will be administered by a paediatrician of your choice, who will also set appointments for follow-up boosters.

If you are newly arrived with a small child but don’t have a local paediatrician yet, get in touch with the Swiss Pediatric Society which might be able to direct you to paediatrician in your area.

All vaccinations recommended by FOPH are paid by the compulsory health insurance.

READ MORE: Swiss MPs call for fines for parents who fail to vaccinate kids against measles

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For members


Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

For many years, people coming from the United Kingdom were banned from donating their blood in Switzerland. This is what the situation is right now.

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

The ‘blood ban’ that extended to British citizens or those of any nationality who had lived in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), was implemented for safety purposes.

The reason was the so-called mad cow disease (BSE), which was particularly rampant in Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people contracted and even died from the cattle-borne condition known scientifically as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

It is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. 

While most of them got BSE from eating contaminated beef, “experience tells us that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood”, according to a BBC report.

As a result, a number of governments, including the Swiss, prohibited people from the UK to donate blood.

However, this rule is no longer in force in Switzerland.

According to Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), which is a member of the national blood transfusion network Blutspende and follows the same rules, only people who had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months at a stretch still can’t donate blood.

This is a period when the BSE outbreak was at its worst in the UK.

If you had lived in Great Britain prior to or after that date, you can safely donate your blood.

Have there been any BSE cases in Switzerland?

About 465 cases had been reported in Switzerland between 1990 and 2020, with less than 20 deaths.

There are still isolated cases of BSE throughout Europe, but they are no longer a cause for as much concern as previously.

Can everyone donate blood in Switzerland?

Gay men are still not allowed to do so.

Under Swiss law, any man who has had sex with another man is prevented from donating blood for 12 months — the legislation was introduced during the the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, while the 12-month rule was introduced in 2017.

However, in March 2020, the National Council’s Commission for Social Security and Health said the rule was “no longer appropriate” and filed a motion to rescind it. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to clear way for gay and bisexual men to donate blood

Who else is prevented from donating blood?

According to Blutspende, these medical and other conditions disqualify people from donating blood in Switzerland:

  • Positive test for HIV (AIDS), syphilis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B
  • Prostitution
  • Past or present drug use by injection
  • Blood transfusion after 01.01.1980

These reasons could be a cause for deferral though not an outright ban:

  • Stay during the past six months in a region where malaria is endemic, without any health problem (in case of illness with fever, tell the doctor at the blood donation centre).
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease during the past 12 months
  • Change of sexual partner during the past four months
  • Sexual intercourse with multiple partners during the past 12 months
  • Stay of six months or longer in the past 12 months in countries with a high HIV-prevalence

More information about blood donation in Switzerland can be found here.