The colleague of a friend of mine recently compared the new COVID restrictions in Switzerland – requiring the presentation of a COVID certificate to enter a restaurant, club, or indoor cultural space – to the Holocaust. So, let’s talk.
To say that the vaccine is giving rise to some divisive opinions is an understatement.
It’s the only thing that I cannot talk to my best friend about. One of the most important people in my life, but when she told me she wasn’t getting vaccinated and asked me not to bring it up, I understood why – both of us are genuinely worried that our friendship would never be the same if we were to have that conversation.
Isn’t that insane?
I live in Switzerland, where just over half of the population have received a first dose. Based on a number of studies and surveys, as well as on the numerous conversations I’ve had with those around me who aren’t getting vaccinated, I’ve compiled some of the main grounds people are citing for not getting the jab.
My intention is not to talk down to anti-vaxers, or to people who do not want to get the COVID vaccine. My aim is to try and discern what beliefs and mindsets, derived from a very particular socio-historical context may lie behind Swiss people’s* resistance regarding the vaccine.
1. Mistrusting information
A survey revealed that one of the most common reasons for not getting vaccinated fear of the long-term effects, of the reality of the virus, and of the effectiveness as well as the purpose of the vaccine.
Among those who fall into this category, I include the conspiracy theorists. We all know a white guy with dreadlocks or a girl with big black-framed glasses who will swear that the virus holds a tracking device or that it’ll control our minds. A study done in Basel revealed that almost a third of Switzerland’s population believe COVID to be a conspiracy. However as far as I can tell, the exact nature of the conspiracy varies from person to person – I kid you not, I have not heard two people who hold to the exact same theory.
2. They don’t like being told what to do
This is the big one.
This is the attitude underlying my friend’s colleague’s comparison of the systematic persecution and murder of six million people based on ethnicity and religion to her being unable to order a drink indoors, lest she put herself and others at risk.
Because apparently ordering a drink indoors is a human right.
She doesn’t like being told what to do.
I haven’t heard anyone else express their opinion in quite such a controversial, insensitive, and ignorant way, but this resistance to authority seems to be very common. Often, a person will start by saying, “We don’t really know what the vaccine will do to our bodies” or “Look at Israel – the vaccine clearly doesn’t work anyways,” but eventually they’ll get frustrated with discussing it and say, “Honestly, I just don’t like it that they’re trying to force us.”
What I’m referring to are those people, often on the younger side and including a number of my friends, who just don’t care. Either they’ve already had the virus and don’t see the point in getting a shot, or they just don’t have the energy to take a few moments out of their busy days to make an appointment, especially when they don’t think they’re at risk.
Rather than expressing their indifference, they’ll say something like, “I haven’t had the time,” or repeat the arguments of those in the first two categories, but lacking both conviction and passion.
So, I have a theory.
I say the following tentatively, but I suspect that there are historical and cultural factors behind Switzerland’s low vaccine numbers.
Switzerland as a country has never really suffered. That isn’t to say that on an individual level people aren’t suffering – we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. But we are a country whose government has always looked out for its citizens (and for itself). As a result, our unemployment rate is low and the poorest amongst us are better off than in most countries. We haven’t fought in a war since 1499.
Because we’ve always been comfortable, we are apathetic.
This, I think – I THINK – is why marriage for all has only just been voted on. It’s why women didn’t get the vote in the last Swiss canton until 1991. That is WILD. And I don’t want to diminish the hard work and the voices of those who were and are suffering in this country, and who are pushing for the implementation of these basic rights. What I’m saying is that possibly the reason it took so long for these voices to be heard is because they were lost in the thickly-carpeted chamber of indifference that is the rest of the Swiss population.
We have always had the luxury of not caring.
We are also used to being asked to vote on literally everything, so the impositions of regulations are particularly tricky for our privileged butts to handle.
Making clumsy statements and immense generalisations, this is how I explain the Swiss vaccination statistics. It doesn’t justify them, not by a long shot, but maybe it can be helpful when conversing to realise that there is a particular mindset shaped by history that lies behind it.
I could be getting this wrong, so please share your thoughts. Debate me. Correct me. Point out what I’ve left out – because there’s a lot to this conversation.
*when I speak of “Swiss people” I include in their number expats and immigrants who have lived in Switzerland for a significant amount of time.