‘We can’t lower our standards’: Swiss pharma pledges not to cut corners in vaccine race

Despite mounting pressure for a coronavirus vaccine, pharmaceutical companies - including representatives from Swiss giant Roche - have pledged not to cut corners.

‘We can’t lower our standards’: Swiss pharma pledges not to cut corners in vaccine race
Severin Schwan, head of pharma giant Roche. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Pharmaceutical company executives insisted Thursday they would not try to bring Covid-19 vaccines or treatments to market that did not meet rigorous safety and efficiency standards.

Across the world, governments are hoping to announce a vaccine as soon as possible and roll out treatments for the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 860,000 people and infected over 26 million.

But the sense of urgency has raised fears that companies and regulators might rush though testing meant to ensure that vaccines or treatments can be used safely and will actually be effective against the disease.

READ: Switzerland's Roche launches 15-minute coronavirus test 

Severin Schwan, head of Roche, said the industry had demonstrated its commitment to transparency in the data, and was dedicated to keeping testing standards high despite pressure for results.

He pointed to his company's disappointing findings that its arthritis drug tocilizumab — sold under the brand name Actemra — was not by itself an effective treatment for Covid-19, as anecdotal evidence had suggested.

“There is no way that we can lower the standards in conducting our trials,” he said, adding that the Actemra trials “demonstrate the very point.”

Roche is still testing whether Actemra could be effective when combined with other drugs, including Gilead's remdesivir.

'Very thorough process'

Daniel O'Day, head of Gilead, insisted that the process of obtaining an emergency use authorisation is no easy feat, pointing to his company's experience obtaining one for its antiviral drug remdesivir, which has been shown to be effective in treating Covid-19.

“It is a very thorough process,” he noted.

“We will not cut corners,” Pfizer chief Albert Bourla told reporters in a virtual briefing. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech hope to wrap up final-stage Phase III trials of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate as early as next month.

Several other top pharmaceutical executives in the briefing, hosted by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), also committed to upholding stringent standards for safety and efficiency before requesting authorisation for new coronavirus vaccines or treatments.

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Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s tax deadline is just around the corner. Are Covid-related costs tax deductible?

Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

March 31st is the deadline for filing taxes in Switzerland relating to the 2021 financial year. 

Over the past two years, the Covid pandemic has seen a change in our spending habits. 

While we may have saved on restaurants and travel, we laid out considerable costs on a range of new expenses, including disinfectant, masks and Covid tests. 

As some of these costs are required by law, can they be deducted from your tax?

In some cases, expenses directly related to the Covid pandemic can be deducted. 

Masks, for instance, can be deducted as medical expenses in some cantons, Swiss tax specialist Markus Stoll told 20 Minutes

This depends on the specific framework for tax deductions related to medical expenses in that canton. 

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Switzerland?

Generally speaking, any medical costs paid out of pocket can be deducted. However, most cantons impose a minimum percentage limit from which these costs can be deducted. 

In many cantons, this will start at five percent of your yearly income in total (i.e. including other out-of-pocket costs like dental or specialist visits), meaning you would need to purchase a significant amount of masks to beat the threshold. 

What about testing and vaccination?

Testing and vaccinations however were largely free as their costs were covered by the Swiss government, which means associated expenses cannot be deducted. 

Those tests which were not covered by the government – for instance for travel abroad or for visiting clubs – cannot be deducted, Stoll says. 

“Tests for travel abroad or to visit clubs are not deductible” Stoll said. 

For a complete overview of taxation in Switzerland, including several specific guides, please check out our tax-specific page here.