Immigrants' Vaccine Scepticism Jeopardises Herd Immunity, Danish Health Authorities Warn
While Denmark became the first EU country to scrap all COVID-19 restrictions, relying on vaccine protection, non-western immigrants below the age of 40 remain the largest pocket of resistance. For instance, less than half of the nation's Somali and Syrian communities have taken the shot.
Despite strenuous appeals from the authorities, many of Denmark's non-western minority groups continue to opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine, new figures have shown.
According to the State Serum Institute (SSI), merely 38.8 percent of people of Somali heritage in Denmark have been vaccinated, along with just 40.7 percent of Lebanese and 45.2 percent of Syrians, the newspaper BT reported
. In comparison, 73.3 percent of Denmark's total population of 5.6 million have gotten their shots.
Søren Brostrøm, the head of the National Board of Health, saw it coming.
"The virus is colour-blind. Everyone can be infected. So get vaccinated. It's not dangerous", he urged back in August.
Meanwhile, the National Board of Health has bent over backwards to get residents in the designated ghetto areas to roll up their sleeves. In addition to knocking on doors and establishing mobile vaccination centres, Søren Brostrøm has even visited Friday prayers for bridge-building. Nevertheless, the low vaccination rates threaten to undermine Denmark's efforts to contain the spread of the virus and subvert the goal of attaining herd immunity.
For instance, former SSI head Nils Strandberg Pedersen expressed his frustration that herd immunity
is still a long way off despite the country's best efforts.
"We reckoned a 90 percent vaccination rate would gain immunity, but this is pulling in the wrong direction. You are simply a danger to others if you are not vaccinated", he told BT.
BT singled out non-western immigrants under the age of 40 as the most vaccine-reluctant group in Denmark, citing myths about the COVID-19 vaccine circulating in the immigrant communities, including that it causes infertility and changes one's DNA.
Chief physician at Aarhus University Hospital Lars Østergaard argued that more research is needed into why so many non-western immigrants refuse to take the shot to tackle the problem more effectively.
The sluggish vaccine support among certain ethnic groups caused the liberal-conservative party Venstre to demand a statement from the government.
"This is not good enough. It is untenable for us to have such a large population group that goes against the community in such a way", Venstre health spokesman Martin Geertsen said.
The group chairman of the national-conservative Danish People's Party, Peter Skaarup, called the situation "completely unsustainable" and urged the authorities to "make demands".
"For example, to require that you are fully vaccinated to obtain a residence permit in Denmark. It must be something that can be felt in the everyday lives of these people", Skaarup mused.
Health Minister Magnus Heunicke emphasised that the government's goal is to keep Denmark completely open throughout the winter. At the same time, he stressed the risk of outbreaks of the more contagious Delta strain in residential areas, unless vaccination progresses.
Last week, Denmark became the first EU country to scrap all COVID-19 restrictions. So far, the Scandinavian country has seen 353,000 cases with over 2,600 deaths.