COVID-19: Switzerland can start vaccinating vulnerable groups already in December

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On 19 December 2020 Swissmedic, the Swiss agency for the authorisation and supervision of therapeutic products, approved the first COVID-19 vaccination for the Swiss market. The vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech is suitable for adults from age 16. The first doses of vaccine will be delivered to Switzerland in the next few days, stored by the Armed Forces Pharmacy, and then distributed to the cantons. After that the cantons will be able to start vaccinating vulnerable groups in targeted and supervised settings. From 4 January 2021 the vaccination of vulnerable groups and other priority groups will begin all over Switzerland.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved by Swissmedic. On the basis of the safety, efficacy and quality data the vaccine is suitable without age restrictions for all adults from age 16. Detailed vaccination recommendations from the FOPH and the Federal Vaccination Commission (EKIF/CFV) will be published in the coming days.

Delivery and distribution to the cantons

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be delivered to Switzerland in stages; the first delivery will comprise around 100,000 doses. Additional larger deliveries will follow. The federal government has ordered a total of around three million doses of vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech.

The Armed Forces will receive the vaccine, store it in their protected facilities at minus 70 degrees Celsius, and then distribute it to the cantons. Delivery will be made shortly before vaccination starts. Then the cantons will be able to store the vaccine for a maximum of 5 days at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (in the refrigerator).

Vulnerable group can be vaccinated first

In the first phase, already in December the cantons will be able to begin with the first vaccinations, on a systematic, step-by-step basis, for people in vulnerable groups in targeted and supervised settings. From 4 January 2021 it will be possible to start vaccinating vulnerable groups in line with the vaccination strategy and recommendations in all cantons throughout Switzerland. This will be done on a step-by-step basis. Most cantons are setting up vaccination centres and mobile teams for this purpose. Given that the volumes of vaccine available are still limited, initially they are likely to operate primarily with mobile teams.

Under the national vaccination strategy, priority will be 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 community 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. Each person will require two vaccinations at an interval of around three weeks.

All other adults can then be vaccinated once sufficient vaccine is 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 mandatory vaccination requirement. The COVID-19 vaccination will be free of charge for the population.

Further vaccines under investigation

The federal government has so far signed contracts for a total of around 15 million doses of vaccine: besides the 3 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech this includes an additional 4.5 million doses from Moderna and up to 5.3 million doses from AstraZeneca. The vaccines from Moderna and AstraZeneca are still undergoing the approval process at Swissmedic. The AstraZeneca vaccine is unlikely to be available until the middle of the year. In addition, Switzerland is taking part in the international COVAX Initiative to give economically weaker countries access to vaccines.

Federal Office of Public Health