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VACCINATION

Sweden’s foreign residents report confusion over booking Covid-19 vaccine without a personnummer

UPDATED: Some foreign residents without a Swedish personnummer have told The Local they are unable to book a Covid-19 vaccine, despite being eligible and despite assurances from authorities that this would not be a barrier.

Sweden's foreign residents report confusion over booking Covid-19 vaccine without a personnummer
Access to the Covid-19 vaccine should not require a personnummer, but some foreign residents have been told they can't book a slot without one. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Everyone who is living or temporarily staying in Sweden is supposed to be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, including for example students, new arrivals, and others without a personnummer, Sweden’s ten-digit social security code which is a prerequisite for access to many public services.

This has been made clear both by the authority representing Sweden’s regions (SKR) and the Public Health Agency, but when The Local asked regions in February how they were ensuring these people were reached, most said plans had not been finalised.

The experiences of The Local’s foreign readers show that vaccine access for people without the number varies across the country.

The numbers are only available to people who can prove they will be in Sweden for at least a year, so as well as new arrivals and people who run into bureaucratic difficulties, many students or people on shorter term work contacts are without the number.

Ryan, originally from the UK, does not have a personnummer, despite moving to Sweden in December 2019. He belongs to a Covid-19 risk group and although he had been anxious about accessing the vaccine, he says the process was easy and he has now been vaccinated in the Uppsala region.

“I rang the number as I don’t have a personnummer, told that I’m at risk; they said OK and booked both my jabs there and then,” he said. Ryan added that the process at the centre was relatively simple, with staff giving the vaccine able to speak to him in English.

Another reader in a Covid-19 risk group told The Local she booked her vaccine in Stockholm despite lacking a personnummer by calling her doctor’s office directly.

But others had been less lucky.

One 52-year-old British reader told The Local she has lived in Sweden since early 2020 and has ties to the country from several years previously, but only has a samordningsnummer (coordination number) and no personnummer.

She described how she had been sent round in circles by different health authorities while trying to book her vaccine, with her local doctor’s office saying she could not register without a personnummer and  referring her to online healthcare portal 1177.se, who sent her back to the doctor’s office.

“I went back to the vårdcentral and they say that they can not register me or give me a vaccination without a personnummer and the number allocated to me by Skatteverket [the Swedish Tax Agency, which issued the coordination number] isn’t acceptable,” she said.

“They state that it is 1177.se that must do the vaccinations for anyone who is in phase 4 and does not have any underlying health conditions. Although the information provided by 1177.se states that you can get vaccinated without a personnummer, there is no way to be able to book a slot to get the vaccination. Am I the only person in this position?”

Her experience is not unique.

A researcher at Stockholm University contacted The Local to say she and her husband are both eligible for the vaccine, but were told when they called the phone booking line that they could not get an appointment without a personnummer

In Gothenburg, a pregnant woman who is eligible for the vaccinations due to risk of severe Covid-19, told The Local: “I don’t have a personnummer, so can’t use 1177 or register with a medical centre. Instead, my midwife sent me a letter that invites me to be vaccinated and provides a phone number to call at the local hospital. But it seems the phone is understaffed and after waiting over an hour on three occasions, I’ve given up for now.”

Another reader, Raphael, checked options for booking in three regions of northern Sweden: Jämtland, Dalarna, Västernorrland.

“At some point in the booking process it always required the personnummer that I don’t have. Calling the booking hotline provided on 1177.se in Västernorrland I was told they can not do a booking for people without a personnummer. Nobody seems to be able to do anything. I gave up and will take a time off in my home country to get vaccinated, since Sweden clearly is not interested in making it possible,” he told The Local.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency, as well as the umbrella organisation for Sweden’s regions and municipalities (SKR) have recommended that the vaccine be offered for free to everyone in Sweden, including people such as students and new arrivals lacking a personnummer.

In February, The Local contacted each of Sweden’s 21 regions to ask how people without a personnummer could book the vaccine. Ten did not respond, and of the 11 that did, many could not offer details on the booking process for people without a personnummer at the time. 

The Local is in the process of contacting the regions where readers have reported problems to find out what people without a personnummer can do to receive their vaccine.

One reader, 54-year-old Anne in Stockholm, contacted The Local to say she was initially unable to book a vaccine but eventually had success. 

“It took numerous calls to different organisations,” she said. “I had already been to this centre [the doctor’s office where she eventually got her appointment] and they couldn’t tell me then what to do. I called them again and again and finally someone said they look into it and get back to me. The process seems chaotic and nobody knows, especially 1177 who were very nice and explained that they were as frustrated with the process as I was. Perseverance pays off so let every know that they should just keep on calling you will eventually find someone to help. It shouldn’t be so difficult and stressful.”

Another problem is that many of the booking systems — though it depends on your region — rely on access to a digital ID. This requires a personnummer, and even some people who have the social security code do not have the digital ID.

In most regions, it should be possible to book over the phone, but several readers reported busy phone lines and limited language options.

The difficulties booking vaccines without a personnummer or BankID follow similar issues with the Covid-19 test booking system.

In Sweden, the most common way to book a coronavirus test is using a healthcare app or website which requires a BankID, while people without one are expected to phone a doctor’s office directly. As with the vaccines, the experience varied between regions and individuals, with some readers of The Local saying they were easily able to book a test without a personnummer and others reporting struggles.

Outside the healthcare system, a personnummer is often required for access to services ranging from Swedish lessons to library membership to supermarket loyalty cards.

As The Local has reported previously, there is often confusion about what people without the ten-digit code are entitled to, and it’s common to be told different things by different staff members.

For example, EU nationals have a right to access state-subsidised Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) lessons even if they don’t have a personnummer, but many people in this group report being wrongly told they are ineligible. Similar confusion exists within bank branches, for example, where EU citizenship or a coordination number should legally be enough to open an account, but foreigners may still find they are told they need a personnummer.

Have you had problems accessing the Covid-19 vaccine without a personnummer? You can get in touch with us at [email protected], or fill out our vaccine survey. The survey is open to anyone who has received the vaccine in Sweden, who lives in Sweden but travelled overseas to get vaccinated, or who is eligible for the vaccine but has been unable to book.

Member comments

  1. I have a personal number, have a high BMI and am at risk. Yet when I called the Vardcentral I was told I wasn’t on the list to be vaccinated and that the Docters in the region where I live are the ones who decide who is on the list. I asked well should I check with my GP, they said no it is not the GP who determine this. I asked who then , they said its the Regional Docters, vague , elusive.

    I am sure some foreigners have done just alright in Sweden but at its core , Sweden is NOT an open society, it is inward looking and very anti foreigner. The worst decision I ever made in my life was to come here. I am my family are moving next month.

  2. Ditto. Also refused to give me testing. I have Health Insurance but they refuse this for vaccination and testing and as they probably do not recognise vaccinations given in other countries (non-EU) going outside seems a waste of time, unless you are moving back home as you seem to have concluded.

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COVID-19

Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.” 

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