Given that the development and availability of vaccines is subject to such great uncertainty, the federal government continues to pursue a diversified procurement strategy covering a variety of vaccine technologies (mRNA, vector-based and protein-based) and different vaccine manufacturers. The federal government has now secured two new COVID-19 vaccines while also increasing its orders with Moderna.
Vaccine based on mRNA technologyLike Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, Curevac has opted for the novel mRNA technology. mRNA is a type of messenger molecule that carries the instructions for building proteins. These give the cells of the body the necessary information on how they are to produce a virus protein. As soon as the protein is produced in the body, the immune system recognises it as a foreign body and produces antibodies against the virus. The immune response prepares the body to fight the virus. The Curevac COVID-19 vaccine is currently in phase III trials. Provided this phase is completed successfully and Swissmedic grants approval, Curevac will probably be able to deliver direct to Switzerland from the 2nd quarter of the year. Curevac also requires each person to receive two doses of the vaccine. This means that an additional 2.5 million people in Switzerland will be able to be protected from a severe case of COVID-19.
The contract with Curevac is based on the delivery agreement between the European Commission and the company. The doses can be ordered by individual states and procured once the vaccine has been approved. Sweden will order the doses for the EFTA states of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland that are not members of the EU and sell them on to these countries at cost price.
Third technology in the portfolioOnce the final agreement with Novavax has been signed, it will be possible to deliver the protein-based vaccine to Switzerland from the second quarter of 2021 - provided the Novavax vaccine is approved by Swissmedic. At two doses per person, the 6 million doses of the vaccine are sufficient for 3 million people in Switzerland.
With Novavax, Switzerland now has a protein-based vaccine in its portfolio in addition to vaccines based on mRNA (Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and Curevac) and vector technology (AstraZeneca). Novavax’s vaccine contains the spike protein of the Covid-19 virus. The immune system forms antibodies against this protein, which prepares it to respond against an infection when it sees the Covid-19 virus. Like Curevac, the Novavax vaccine is currently in the last phase of trials.
Additional doses from ModernaThe federal government has also signed a further agreement with Moderna for an additional 6 million vaccine doses, increasing the agreed delivery to 13.5 million doses. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved by Swissmedic, and has an efficacy of 95 per cent. The additional doses will be delivered in stages from mid-year onwards. The agreement also enables part of the deliveries to be adjusted and only procured in the first half of 2022. Moderna is already conducting research on a booster designed to protect against future mutations.
Broadly underpinnedSo far the federal government has signed agreements with five vaccine manufacturers: Moderna (now a total of around 13.5 million doses), Pfizer/BioNTech (around 3 million), AstraZeneca (around 5.3 million) and now Curevac (5 million) and Novavax (6 million). The idea behind procuring vaccines from different manufacturers is to make sure that sufficient doses of an approved vaccine are available to the public even if there are delivery problems. Given that the course of the pandemic is so hard to assess, the federal government is still in negotiations with various vaccine manufacturers.
Switzerland is also taking part in the international COVAX initiative to gain access to vaccines for up to 20 per cent of the Swiss population. At the same time this supports economically weaker countries that are gaining access to COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX initiative.