A swashbuckling Swiss is hard to imagine. After all, the Swiss haven’t fought a war against a foreign country since 1515, except when Napoleon attacked—and then Switzerland was conquered (although Swiss forces did win one battle against Napoleon’s troops; there’s a large monument near Bern to prove it.) If the Swiss are known for anything, it’s their passion for security. No one buys more insurance than a Swiss does; no one takes better care of their car.
So, if they are so safety conscious, why aren’t they getting vaccinated against Covid-19?
It could be worse, of course. Sixty-six percent of the Swiss population is vaccinated at least once, while not even 50% of the people in Idaho and West Virginia have received a first dose. In Rumania, a member of the EU, that figure is only 37%.
Still, compared to the rest of Western Europe, Switzerland is a disaster. Consider the Portuguese, 88.8% of whom have had at least one dose, while in Italy and Norway it’s 77%. True, the state of Vermont still leads the pack, with 72% of Vermonters double-vaccinated. But Vermont has only 623,251 people; even little Portugal has ten million.
We’re in the middle of National Vaccination Week in Switzerland, November 8-12. The federal government has provided the cantons with money to organize vaccination tents and buses, accompanied by concerts, fairs, or at least free food, to charm the remaining one third of the Swiss population into finally getting their shots.
Sadly, no one really expects this effort to work; some of the more conservative cantons haven’t even bothered to take their share of the federal money. Vaccinations have been easily available to everyone over 18 for at least six months now, and the pressure on people to get inoculated has been high. Anyone who hasn’t yet been immunized probably isn’t just waiting for the chance to get a free donut with their jab.
Swiss anti-vaxxers are a mystery to the other two thirds of the population. Some are conspiracy theorists, who also believe that fifth-generation mobile technology is a secret system to control their brains. Others don’t like the government telling them what to do, especially (in the case of the political right) the federal government. But an astonishingly large number of the people who won’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 don’t seem to have any clear reason at all: they just don’t want this “untested” stuff in their bodies.
This strikes me as a particularly odd argument coming from the Swiss, since so many of them believe in homeopathic and herbal remedies for every kind of illness; swear by osteopathy, ayurvedic diets, and electromagnetic therapies; and expect their health insurance policies to pay for all kinds of alternative treatments. To me it appears that they love untested stuff. I imagine they’d counter that their kind of health care has been tested. Ayurveda, after all, has been practiced in India for thousands of years, whereas we’ve only been injecting people with Covid vaccinations since December 8, 2020 (not counting test subjects). I don’t think my pointing out that testing has a lot to do with examining effectiveness would go over well with this group.
This anti-science/anti-big pharma/anti-medical establishment crowd has joined forces with the pro-freedom people, and Bern and other cities have seen one demonstration after another of the unmasked. Ever since people started having to show proof of vaccination or a negative test at the doors of restaurants, concert halls, movie theaters, and dance clubs, many demonstrators have started carrying signs calling the Swiss government a dictatorship.
Switzerland, a dictatorship? A country in which it only takes 100,000 signatures in support of a proposal to bring it before the whole population in a federal vote? A country in which any law produced by parliament can be challenged by voters if 50,000 signatures are gathered against it within 100 days of its passing?
We already voted last June on a referendum opposing the federal government’s response to Covid, which included the closure of restaurants and the wearing of masks. That time, the government’s decisions were upheld. Now, at the end of November, we’re voting again for or against our nation’s updated Covid legislation, much of which involves financial help for people whose income was cut by the pandemic, as well as rules about contact tracing, testing, and proof-of-vaccination passes. So far it looks like the current federal policy on Covid will be approved. Thank goodness.
By now, I’ve given up trying to understand all the reasons why so many Swiss—including a few I know well and am fond of—refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The kindest explanation is to assume that they are beset by fears of immunization that are deeper than the fear of dying from Covid or killing someone by passing the disease on, perhaps to someone they love. As far as I’m concerned, being afraid of Covid’s effects on myself or, through me, on other people is a completely rational fear, to which getting vaccinated is the only rational response. Two-thirds of the Swiss population apparently think the way I do.
What the remaining third is afraid of, I can’t imagine. Surely not that their country has become dictatorship, since the freedom the Swiss anti-vaxxers have at present to overwhelm hospitals and threaten their fellow citizens’ lives is extraordinary.
Photos by Keystone