COVID-19 vaccine: Swiss federal government signs agreement with AstraZeneca

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The Swiss federal government wants to assure members of the Swiss public rapid access to COVID-19 vaccines. Given that it is still not clear which vaccines will ultimately prevail, the government is taking a diversified approach. It has now signed an agreement with UK pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca and the Swedish government for the delivery of up to 5.3 million doses of vaccine. The Swiss public will therefore gain access to a further COVID-19 vaccine - provided it successfully passes the clinical trial phase and is approved by Swissmedic.

The contract is based on an agreement between the European Commission and AstraZeneca for the delivery of up to 400 million doses for Europe. These doses can be ordered by individual states according to their population numbers and procured once the vaccine has been approved. Sweden will order doses for EEA and EFTA states that are not EU member states and resell them at no profit to the relevant countries. If approved, the vaccine will be delivered directly to Switzerland by AstraZeneca, which already submitted an application for approval to Swissmedic at the start of October.

Vector-based technology

The UK group has developed the AZD1222 vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford and its Vaccitech spin-out. AZD1222 is a vector-based vaccine (adenovirus) that expresses the surface protein of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 spike protein). The vaccine should thus prepare the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it infects the body.

Diversified strategy

As it is still not clear which vaccines will ultimately prevail, the Swiss federal government is aiming to procure several COVID-19 vaccines based on different technologies - mRNA, protein-based and vector-based. It is holding talks with other manufacturers of promising vaccine candidates in order to possibly conclude further agreements.

In August 2020, the Swiss federal government concluded an agreement with the Swiss company Moderna for 4.5 million doses of vaccine. Switzerland is also participating in the international COVAX initiative to procure vaccine for up to 20 per cent of the Swiss population. The actual vaccination strategy and recommendations will depend on the individual vaccines and will take account of the latest scientific findings.

In addition to prevention, the treatment of COVID-19 infections is also relevant. In summer 2020, the Swiss federal government therefore secured access to an immunotherapeutic agent from Molecular Partners. The drug could, in certain cases, also be administered on a prophylactic basis to protect against infection (passive immunisation), for example for exposed hospital staff or other risk groups.

Federal Office of Public Health