Germany and Switzerland struggle with vaccination drive

As Covid case incidence rises, Berlin and Bern grapple with those refusing to get jab

Germany and Switzerland have given the world precision engineering, reliable machines and luxury watches – but as winter approaches, critics say their Covid-19 vaccination drives to date are proving as erratic as a broken cuckoo clock.

Bringing up the rear in western Europe, Germany’s leading public health body has conceded it doesn’t know for sure how many adults are doubly vaccinated against Covid-19: nearly 70, around 75 or perhaps even over 80 per cent.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) blamed the discrepancy on doctors lodging their bills for vaccinating patients but not registering each vaccination in a separate database.

With its vaccine booster campaign only now getting under way, the institute has warned that case numbers are now “significantly higher than in the same period last year”.


New data on Thursday showed Covid-19 cases in Germany have jumped 75 per cent in one week, with an infection rate of 130 cases per 100,000 of population. Similarly the number of patients in intensive care has risen to 1,773, up 13 per cent in a week, with unvaccinated patients in the majority.

“If we don’t increase the vaccination rate significantly, we are heading into a very difficult autumn,” said Dr Christian Karagiannidis, representative of Germany’s association of intensive care doctors. “We have the problem now that the average age in intensive care wards is dropping significantly and many patients are now under 60.”

Side-effects fear

A survey of unvaccinated citizens, commissioned by Germany’s federal health ministry, shows that one-third believe vaccines have not been adequately tested, while some 18 per cent fear vaccine side-effects.

Bayern Munich star footballer Joshua Kimmich falls into these two categories, admitting this week he remains unvaccinated because he is concerned about long-term health consequences.

The survey shows four other major groups, ranging from 10-15 per cent, who either doubt official information or are sceptical that Covid-19 is as dangerous as claimed. Just 2 per cent of those questioned in the German survey reject vaccines in general and only 1 per cent of unvaccinated people surveyed viewed the vaccination campaign as a money-making exercise by pharmaceutical companies.

“There is no shortage of opportunity or information: the unvaccinated are sceptical of the state or the vaccine,” said a federal health ministry spokeswoman. “We are still counting on the power of good arguments.”

With a vaccination rate by one measure of just 65 per cent of the total population, including a quarter of 12-17 year olds, criticism is growing of plans by Germany’s incoming coalition to let remaining federal emergency laws expire next month – including the power to impose lockdowns.

Germany insists it will not make vaccinations mandatory but most restaurants, hotels, theatres, sports and concert venues have made a vaccination certificate – or proof of recovery from Covid-19 – a condition of entry.

Wait-and-see attitude

Across the border in Switzerland, meanwhile, health minister Alain Berste has warned of “dark clouds on the horizon”, with cases rising by one-third this week and just 63 per cent of the country’s total population fully vaccinated.

A recent survey indicated one-quarter of Swiss citizens have ruled out being vaccinated while an additional 12 per cent have a wait-and-see attitude.

Similar to Germany, studies show a stark urban/rural divide, with those working in agriculture the least likely to get a jab. When it came to refusing a vaccination, lower income and level of education were influential, as was whether the respondent had a personal experience of Covid-19 among family or friends.

Switzerland’s right-wing People’s Party, including its ministers in government, have challenged public health messaging by denouncing restrictions – and vaccination certificates – as undermining Switzerland’s liberal tradition.

On the other side of the debate, a grassroots campaign called Protect the Kids is highly critical of a decision not to push testing and masks in schools. For some medical experts, Switzerland’s pandemic response remains at odds with the European mainstream.

“There’s an ongoing struggle here to view the pandemic as a collective societal challenge,” said Prof Flurin Condrau of the University of Zürich’s Centre for Medical Humanities. “The right wing are politicising vaccination certificates while, if you only test adults, you are effectively allowing the virus spread rapidly among school children.”