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Cantons gear up for crucial Covid vaccination drive

Vaccination tram in Zurich
In several towns and cities, mobile vaccination units, including trams and buses, will be on the road during National Vaccination Week, which starts on Monday. Keystone / Michael Buholzer

New mobile vaccination units, information campaigns and special events are set to go live as Switzerland, which has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates in Europe, heads into a week-long offensive to increase uptake.

With around 73% of people aged 12 and older fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and cases climbing steadily – reaching nearly 3,000 last Friday – the federal government has designated the coming seven days as National Vaccination WeekExternal link. It is putting CHF96 million ($105 million) at the disposal of cantons, which are responsible for health matters, to organise a series of events aimed at making it easy for people to get informed and get their shots.

However, by Friday evening, the cantons had requested a combined total of just under CHF18million for the drive, news agency Keystone-SDA reported, confirming information in the Sonntagsblick newspaper. A spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Health told Keystone that several cantons were expected to make additional requests for funding in the coming days.


Shortage of staff

A spokesperson for the Swiss Conference of Public Health Directors told Keystone that, to qualify for funding for new mobile vaccination and information units, cantons have to meet certain requirements, which can be an obstacle. They can still set up these measures even if they don’t meet the funding criteria, but at their own expense.

“The cantons are doing what’s possible and appropriate,” said spokesperson Tobias Bär, adding that they know conditions on the ground best and are adapting their activities accordingly.

Another hurdle, according to Bär, is a shortage of qualified staff to take part in vaccination week activities, a point that was raised during consultations with the federal authorities, he said.

Earlier this week, Swiss President Guy Parmelin told the media that the vaccination rate in the country was still too low to lift restrictions, as infections continue to rise, and called on the population to do their part. The slogan for the vaccination week is “Pulling out of the Pandemic Together”.

Raffles, hypnosis and free coffee

One of the main events of the National Vaccination Week will be “Back on Tour”, a series of free open-air concerts (no Covid certificate required) featuring Swiss musicians travelling around the country. Concert-goers will have the possibility to get a Covid shot on-site. All concerts are sold out, according to the official event website.

In Zurich, officials are setting up a “vaccination village” in the main hall of the city’s train station, ready to entice people to get their shots with free coffee and treats. In the city’s vaccination centres, health authorities will be targeting one group in particular – foreign nationals, who have a lower rate of vaccination than the rest of the population – with multilingual experts offering information.

The canton of Geneva is offering anyone who gets the Covid vaccine in the coming week the chance to win raffle give-aways, including driving an armoured vehicle on the Geneva airport tarmac. A cross-border vaccination centre will open its doors on Monday at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, located just outside the city of Geneva.

And in the small canton of Appenzell Outer-Rhodes, where the vaccination rate sits at just 57%, anyone afraid of needles will have the option of getting vaccinated under rapid hypnosis at the doctor’s office.

According to Parmelin, the government has not set target figures for the vaccination week but will stake stock of the results afterwards.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR