How easy is it to book a Covid-19 vaccine in Sweden if you don’t speak Swedish?

How easy is it to book a Covid-19 vaccine in Sweden if you don't speak Swedish?
A drive-in vaccination in Gothenburg – but for some foreign residents, language barriers have made accessing the vaccine difficult. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
UPDATED: Language should not be a barrier to accessing healthcare, but availability varies in non-Swedish language support when booking and receiving the Covid-19 vaccine across the country, readers told The Local.

At the time of writing, 70 readers had filled out The Local’s survey on getting the Covid-19 vaccine, of whom 40 had received at least one dose of the vaccine (including two outside Sweden), a further 17 had booked their slot, and 13 were eligible but had been unable to book. When we asked about the booking process, responses were split almost 50:50 between those who described booking as “simple” or “easy”, and those who reported difficulties.

The difficulties reported fell into three categories: technical problems such as the booking app crashing or phone lines being consistently busy; inability to book without a Swedish personnummer, which we reported in more detail here; and limited access to information in languages other than Swedish. That included complaints that information pages provided by regions and healthcare portal 1177 in languages other than Swedish were often outdated, as well as foreign residents being told they were not able to fill out the health declaration – a prerequisite for the vaccine – in English. 

“Some critical details are only in the local language,” said a 51-year-old Japanese reader in Stockholm, who has booked their vaccine.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

“Information in English was always very generic and not up to date in the regions I checked in,” said Raphael, a 32-year-old who belongs to a Covid-19 risk group, and had looked into getting vaccinated in Jämtland, Dalarna and Västernorrland. 

“In Jämtland at least there was the option of switching to an English robot while using the hotline. Fun fact: That one just said ‘Booking is currently closed’ and hung up on you, while in Swedish it was in fact giving you a lot of information on how to get a vaccination date. Made it seem like ‘Booking is closed’ only applies to foreigners. In Västernorrland I was not able to change the language,” he said. He had not yet been able to book a slot at the time of filling out the survey.

Only one reader told us that they were able to fill out the health declaration in English (although not all  respondents gave information about this), which he downloaded online. That reader received his vaccine in Värmland.

Several other survey respondents spoke sufficient Swedish to fill out the declaration with no problems. But in four regions – Jämtland, Skåne, Stockholm, and Västra Götaland – readers reported not only difficulties in booking the vaccine without Swedish language skills, but also said they were told that the health declaration, which is a prerequisite for the vaccine, was not available in English.

That’s despite the fact that the Public Health Agency has versions of the health declaration available on their website in several languages, including Swedish. These were only published on the website in early May, so it is possible that they were not available at the time the readers received their vaccination.

But when The Local contacted the regions where readers reported problems, it became clear that access to non-Swedish language services varies significantly across the country.

A press spokesperson for the Jämtland region, Sara Nilsson, said on Wednesday that an English language version of the declaration would be available “within a few days” after sending it to be translated.

When The Local asked if it is possible for non-Swedish speakers to use the translations from the Public Health Agency, we were told: “”Regarding the health declaration, we have started from the version provided by the Swedish Public Health Agency but made local adjustments for how different response alternatives are to be handled. Several regions have done the same.”

Nilsson also outlined other measures being taken by the region to support non-Swedish speakers, including two films produced in multiple languages about why vaccination is important and how it works.

But measures to support foreigners in booking their time were not yet fully in place, she said: “When it comes to regional information on how to book, we are currently working on translations in the most common languages in Region Jämtland Härjedalen. We also plan to use so-called ‘health guides’ – multilingual people which can help inform foreign-born people about how vaccinations work.” Nilsson added that these health guides may be used to staff the booking phonelines.

Several readers who booked using the healthcare app Alltid Öppet, available in Stockholm and Gotland, noted that most parts, including the declaration, were only available in Swedish. Eric, a Stockholm resident, noted that the app doesn’t make it possible to copy text in order to paste it into Google Translate. Others who had been vaccinated in person said they had asked for an English version of the form and were told none was available.

Readers said they either needed to use online translation services to understand the questions on the health declaration form, or had relied on help from a Swedish relative or friend. Some admitted they had simply guessed. 

“No idea what the health check meant but guessed,” said an Irish reader in Stockholm.

When The Local contacted the Stockholm region, we were told that health declarations were indeed available in multiple languages, and that its booking phone lines were staffed by multilingual staff with help available not only in Swedish and English but also Arabic, Somali, Finnish, Persian, Tigrinya, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

They also informed us that an English language declaration will be added to the Alltid Öppet app during the week beginning May 24th.

The Västra Götaland region also referred us to the foreign language translations of health declarations provided by the Public Health Agency, and said: “We have produced information in several languages ​​and there are also local and national telephone lines in several languages ​​that can be called.”

In southern Sweden, the Skåne region states on its website and in letters sent to people eligible for vaccination: “The health declaration is available in Swedish only.” There is no information on where non-Swedish speakers can seek help – or any information about the foreign language translations available from the Public Health Agency.

When The Local asked if this information on the website was still accurate, and what people who do not speak Swedish should do, a press secretary told us: “They can get help from an interpreter. The primary care centre has more information.” People in Sweden always have the right to an interpreter’s services free of charge when accessing healthcare.

The spokesperson also told us that the health declaration is available in multiple languages from the Public Health Agency, and The Local has asked why this information is not included on the website. 

A German reader living in Skåne told us: “The invitation to get vaccinated, the online booking system, and the health declaration form were all in Swedish (which luckily I can read), with no English translations available.” 

By Catherine Edwards and Chiara Milford

How we carried out the survey

We asked to hear from readers who had either booked or received the Covid-19 vaccine in Sweden; who lived in Sweden but travelled overseas for the vaccine; or who were eligible for the vaccine in Sweden but were unable to book. The survey is still open and we are keen to hear from more readers in this category. 

We received a total of 70 responses by the time of publication, after removing two from people who did not fall into the categories above (we have recorded these comments to inform future reporting, but did not include them in this article).

This was not a scientific survey, but the article was made available to all The Local’s readers. We heard from people aged between 21 and 76, of at least 19 different nationalities (it was not compulsory to share age or home country). Respondents lived in 14 of Sweden’s 21 regions (though just under half were in Stockholm), and we heard from people who had been vaccinated in each of Sweden’s four phases.


Member comments

  1. We are retired and live on the island of Tjörn, 60km north of Gothenburg. We are not native english speakers, and this may actually help, as we dont really have any problem communicating with Närhalsan Vardcentral. English is sometimes better than ours, sometimes much worse (more often) but they are making lots of efforts to get things done. We were actually called for vaccine apointments, no need for booking ! We are in a vacation area, and they may be used to non-Swedish tourists. So, my point is, just speak slowly and spell time / dates if necessary.

  2. I think there two sides to this. Today’s access to information and technology has allowed me to translate Swedish-only content quite easily, and that is an option that everyone can use, especially for online content. Now on the other hand I live in Sweden for 4 years with my family, and I can notice that the further you get from center Gothenburg or Stockholm, finding someone who speaks English is getting harder and harder by km. But the saddest part is that there is quite a lot of discrimination in the Swedish health system that does not offer help in English, and it seems to be a silenced act that no one talks about.

    1. Hi Laurian
      Anywhere outside US/Canada and UK, English is a foreign langage. Here in Sweden, english is widely understood, contrary to many other countries. So discrimination may be a strong word, we are supposed to speak Swedish, not the opposite.

      1. Let me put it like this and maybe it’s just me: I didn’t came here to find a better world, I came because a Swedish company wanted me here, and it wasn’t a bad idea to try the experience. And as we know in the IT&C area, Swden imports a lot of human resources.So I don’t plan living the rest of my life here, and I don’t want to learn a language that I will never use before. That being said I would rather be told from the start that I cannot live here without speaking Swedish, or not being accepted into society, than have a false welcome at Vårdcentral but without any real help when English is not known to the medical personnel.

  3. ‘Booking is currently closed’
    They are using a call back system and I think this is the message that they are full.
    Call early and you will get a call back
    When they ask for a personal number, fake it.
    They call you back and tell them you don’t have a personal number. They give you a number and the time and place for your vaccination

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.