Early View Article - ‘Vaccine populism’ and migrant assistance: On the contingency of mutual aid in Italy's Alpine region

‘Vaccine populism’ and migrant assistance: On the contingency of mutual aid in Italy's Alpine region

Prior to COVID-19, migrant journeys through the Mediterranean were often described with reference to the barriers posed within ‘fortress Europe’ or through registers which centre migrant's adeptness at navigating draconian immigration regimes. Between these two contexts, this paper explores how a public authority lens can assist in understanding the implications of COVID-19 and associated vaccine bureaucracies. We draw on ethnographic research on the Italian-French Alpine border and chart how ‘vaccine populism’—perpetuated in nationalist political discourse as well as in the counter-commentaries of resistance offered by solidarity networks—has specific implications for migrants' access to vaccines and health information. We argue that analyses attentive to the subtle nuances of state and local politics provide an important entry point to map multi-scalar power dynamics which accompany universal health policies. Through considering the complex realities relating to Alpine crossings, we advocate from less categorising approaches to vaccinating migrants.

Policy recommendations

  • Centralised COVID-19 vaccination campaigns may not reach minoritised groups, including undocumented migrants.
  • To mitigate these barriers, it is important to develop inclusive digital and physical approaches to administer vaccines. To be truly inclusive, public health directives must consider how migrant health is affected by hardening European border regimes.
  • In the context of limited political will to reach migrants, grassroots organisations in Europe provide important welfare and humanitarian services to migrants.
  • Grassroots organisations and networks provide a potential source of access and could be harnessed to deliver healthcare to migrants moving across borders. Organisations should be consulted both before and during the rolling out of public health mandates.
  • Internal competitions between actors within grassroots initiatives and their own projects of state resistance may affect the ability of medical staff to offer vaccinations to migrants.
  • Given the extreme resource limitations that characterise solidarity infrastructures, it is essential that any additional labour or outreach is adequately and consistently funded by the state or international organisations.


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