Ever since the early days of the pandemic, one question we have frequently been asked by our readers and members is whether the coronavirus vaccine would be made compulsory in Switzerland or any of its cantons
As The Local Switzerland has reported on several occasions, the Swiss government has been emphatic in emphasising that the vaccine would remain voluntary – a position they’ve reiterated since the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, given the frequency with which we have been asked the question – and the persistent scepticism from a small minority of readers that Switzerland would go back on its word – we thought it necessary to address the matter in a stand-alone article.
Will Switzerland make the coronavirus vaccine compulsory?
As has been repeated frequently by the Swiss government, any coronavirus vaccine will not be made compulsory.
While Health Minister Alain Berset has frequently ruled out making the vaccine mandatory, even if the government wanted to it is unlikely such a measure would be allowed under Swiss law.
The official website of the Swiss government’s coronavirus health plan says the following.
“A general obligation to vaccinate the population is fundamentally ruled out by law. Through transparent and comprehensible information, every person should be able to decide freely whether they want to be vaccinated.”
Could vaccination be made compulsory in certain situations?
While a widespread, nationwide vaccination plan would appear to be illegal, it is legal for certain groups of the population to be compulsorily vaccinated in “narrow conditions”.
According to official Swiss government advice, endangered people and people in certain professions may be made compulsory.
“The Epidemics Act merely provides that the Confederation and the cantons could declare vaccinations of endangered groups of people and certain persons to be compulsory under narrow conditions (“compulsory vaccination” or “vaccination obligation”). However, no one can be forced to be vaccinated (no “compulsory vaccination”).”
“Not only the Confederation and the cantons can take measures. Hospitals can also take measures to protect their patients. However, this is based on labour law and not on the Epidemics Act. For example, it can be stipulated that in a ward with immunocompromised children suffering from cancer, the staff must be vaccinated against measles, for example, or must have demonstrably had measles. If vaccination is compulsory for certain wards in a hospital and individual health professionals do not want to be vaccinated, then they are not allowed to work there.”
There is the legal possibility that people in certain industries would be required to undergo a vaccination.
“Immunisation will be obligatory for people in certain jobs whose work brings them in close contact with the public,” said Dominique Sprumont, deputy director of the Institute of Health Law at the University of Neuchâtel.
Health Minister Alain Berset pointed out that he is “open” to mandating the vaccine for those who work in the healthcare sector and elderly care homes.
“If an employee refuses, then they would have to work elsewhere, in a place where they don’t come in contact with people at risk,” Berset said.
He added that if the controversy arises when the vaccine becomes available, “we would hope to resolve this problem pragmatically, as we’ve always done in our country”.
Is this a so-called ‘back door’ to a compulsory vaccination?
Even without making a vaccine mandatory, some are concerned about a ‘back door’ to compulsory vaccination – i.e. that vaccination will be mandatory in certain jobs, to partake in certain activities or to travel.
However, such a plan would resemble existing vaccine rules for certain activities such as travel and school attendance rather than any widespread vaccination scheme.
Swiss President Guy Parmelin said in February that he expects a certificate of vaccination against Covid-19 will soon be mandatory on international flights.
“In the future, anyone who wishes to travel will need to be vaccinated”, Parmelin said in an interview with NZZ on in February.
He also noted that he would find it “appropriate and understandable” that organisers of mass events like football matches or concerts, adopt the same requirement.
“The Federal Council has to still discuss how we want to regulate this. But I would give great priority to the interests of security”, he added.
A leaked document obtained by the media in late February showed the government’s tentative plan to allow vaccinated people to have certain privileges.
While the idea has received prominent support from Swiss politicians and health experts – as well as the general public.
In a poll of Local Switzerland readers, more than two thirds told us they would sign up for a coronavirus immunity card which would allow them to visit bars, events and concerts again.