Second COVID-19 vaccine approved for Switzerland

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On 12 January 2021 Swissmedic, the Swiss agency for the authorisation and supervision of therapeutic products, approved the second COVID-19 vaccination for the Swiss market. The vaccine from Moderna, of which the federal government has ordered around 7.5 million doses, is suitable for adults from age 18. In the next few days an initial delivery of 200,000 doses will be made to the Armed Forces Pharmacy, which will distribute the vaccine to the cantons. Together with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approved by Swissmedic on 19 December 2020, around half a million doses of vaccine are available in Switzerland in January. The first priority will be to vaccinate especially vulnerable people.

The COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna is the second to be approved by Swissmedic. On the basis of the safety, efficacy and quality data the vaccine is suitable without age restrictions for all adults aged 18 and over. The federal government has ordered 7.5 million doses from Moderna.

Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approved by Swissmedic on 19 December 2020, Moderna has opted for a novel 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 thus produces measurable antibodies against the virus. The immune response prepares the body to fight the virus.

Two doses at an interval of around four weeks are necessary for optimum protection. With 95% and 94% efficacy respectively, the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provide similar protection.

The Moderna vaccine will be delivered to Switzerland in stages; the first delivery in January 2021 will comprise around 200,000 doses. Together with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, around half a million doses of vaccine will be available in Switzerland in January. Further deliveries will follow at regular intervals. This means that the availability of vaccine in Switzerland will increase in the next few months. By summer everyone who wishes to go for vaccination should be able to do so.

Vaccination for high-risk groups and other priority target groups

On 4 January the process of vaccinating high-risk (vulnerable) groups in accordance with the vaccination strategy and vaccination recommendations began all over Switzerland. Most cantons have set up vaccination centres for this purpose, deploying mobile teams to take care of retirement and care homes.

Under the national vaccination strategy, priority is given to vulnerable people (those at particularly high risk), in other words elderly people and people with underlying conditions.

Second priority for vaccination will be given to healthcare personnel, and third priority to people who live with vulnerable people. Fourth priority will then be people in communal facilities such as homes for the handicapped where there is an elevated risk of infection and outbreak, as well as the staff of such facilities.

All other adults can then be vaccinated once sufficient doses of vaccine are available. Children and pregnant women are not yet assigned to target groups under the vaccination strategy, as study data for these groups is not yet available. There is no compulsory vaccination requirement. The COVID-19 vaccination is free of charge for the population.

15 million doses of vaccine

Given that the development and availability of Covid-19 vaccines is subject to a great deal of uncertainty, from the outset the federal government has pursued a targeted and diversified strategy.

So far the federal government has procured a total of more than 15 million doses of vaccine from three vaccine manufacturers: Moderna (a total of around 7.5 million doses), Pfizer/BioNTech (around 3 million doses), and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (around 5.3 million doses). The vaccine from AstraZeneca is still undergoing the approval process at Swissmedic. The federal government is in discussion with other vaccine manufacturers. Parallel to this, Switzerland is taking part in the international COVAX Initiative to give economically weaker countries access to vaccines. The COVAX Initiative is also a means of gaining access to vaccines for up to 20 per cent of the Swiss population.

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