Covid-19: What treatments are in view in Switzerland?

While no drugs are yet available to specifically treat, cure, or prevent coronavirus, Swiss health authorities have pre-ordered some medications for 2021.

Covid-19: What treatments are in view in Switzerland?
Anti-Covid treatment may soon be available in Switzerland, health officials said. Photo by AFP

Let’s start with the vaccine.

In August, Switzerland secured early access to Covid-19 vaccine which is now being developed by the American pharmaceutical company Moderna — the only known strategy so far to build the immunity to the disease.

Swiss authorities pre-ordered 4.5 million doses. But Since two doses of the vaccine will be needed, this means that 2.25 million people, about a fourth of the country’s population, can be vaccinated against Covid-19.

This will not provide the so-called ‘herd immunity’ when at least 50 percent of the population becomes resistant to a particular virus.

However, at least the elderly and those at risk could be vaccinated with the available doses. 

There’s also a chance that people working in certain professions such as health care, could be required to be vaccinated, Health Minister Alain Berset said.

READ MORE: A Covid-19 vaccine could be made mandatory in Switzerland 

The vaccine is not expected to be ready for use before next year at the earliest.

The sense of urgency to develop the vaccine has raised fears that companies and regulators might rush to produce vaccines that have not been properly tested for safety and efficacy.

But pharmaceutical company executives insist they would bring Covid-19 vaccines to market only after thorough testing.

Drug therapy

One an anti-viral medication, Remdesivir, has been used experimentally to treat infected patients, as no other alternatives exist at the moment.

But in August, the federal government has signed a ‘reservation agreement’ for the delivery of 200,000 doses of a possible new coronavirus medication.

If the yet-unnamed drug successfully passes clinical trials and is approved for the market, Switzerland will receive priority access, the Federal Office of Public Health said. 

The government also secured the right to be supplied with up to 3 million further doses. 

Manufactured by a Swiss company, Molecular Partners, a spin-off of the University of Zurich, the new drug acts as an ‘immunotherapeutic agent’. 

This means the treatment is comparable to mixtures of antibody therapies that are used to neutralise the virus.

“If the product is approved in Switzerland, it will primarily be used to treat people infected with the coronavirus”, health authorities noted.

“The drug also could, in certain cases, be administered on a preventive basis — for example for exposed hospital staff or other risk groups”.



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Coronavirus: Why Switzerland doesn’t vaccinate seven days a week

Life in Switzerland usually slows down — and sometimes comes to a standstill— on Sundays and holidays. This sluggishness extends to vaccinations as well, putting in doubt the promises of health officials who vow to inoculate everyone who wants it by summer.

Coronavirus: Why Switzerland doesn't vaccinate seven days a week
Never on Sunday: People in Switzerland can get their during thr week only. Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Much to the chagrin of health officials and churchgoers everywhere, the coronavirus does not take a break on weekends or public holidays.

However, Switzerland’s vaccination scheme has already been plagued by breaks over holiday periods – sometimes for several days in a row. 

As it stands, the best-case scenario for Swiss residents is a vaccinations system which runs six days a week – although this may even be too ambitious. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

No vaccinations over Easter

Many cantons stopped or reduced Covid inoculations during the Easter weekend, according to a report in Le Temps newspaper.

Even though Switzerland received 400,000 doses just before Easter, on that weekend Geneva kept only two centres open out of seven, Bern two out of nine, Vaud between zero and six, depending on the day, and Jura none.

But by far the most unusual reason for not vaccinating on Easter Sunday was given by Basel, whose authorities closed its inoculation centres so as not to disturb residents during the holidays.

READ MORE: Switzerland: Why did Basel stop vaccinations over Easter?

And on the seventh day, the vaccination staff rested…

With more and more vaccines now being delivered, Switzerland’s largest cities are ramping up their infrastructure, allowing them to inoculate thousands of people each day — though possibly not on Sundays.

One such centre is the recently opened enormous Exhibition Hall in Zurich, which can administer 4,000 shots daily.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How Switzerland is speeding up its vaccination programme

Another is in Basel’s equally large exhibition centre, where thousands of vaccines are given as well.

And two more cities are opening their own massive venues.

From April 19th, Geneva will vaccinate on the grounds of its Palexpo centre, which will offer a potential injection capacity of 4,000 doses per day.

And Vaud’s capital, Lausanne, is setting up its unit at the Beaulieu conference centre.

Le Temps however reports that Sunday vaccinations remain “an illusion” in Switzerland, with cantonal vaccination centres not planning on vaccinating on Sundays even when there is enough supply to do so. 

Instead, several vaccination centres in western Switzerland have said they would consider extending vaccination hours on Saturdays, however Sunday jabs remain off limits. 

Are the cantons dragging their feet?

“Not at all”, said Laurent Paoliello, spokesperson for the Department of Health in Geneva, explaining that it all comes down to logistics.

“The vaccines arrived on March 31st. How do you want to make appointments the day before a holiday weekend?”

He also noted that it is difficult to plan centre openings, because supplies are irregular or delayed.

“Geneva’s vaccination programme is set up for a Formula 1, but we receive doses for a soap box”, Paoliello added.

In Jura too, “we received the delivery confirmation less than a week before the arrival of the doses. It’s a planning puzzle”, said the canton’s health minister Jacques Gerber.

“It takes a few days to find the staff, and we must spread out vaccinations, so they are given at the same pace throughout the week, rather than having peaks of activity followed by slack periods”, he pointed out.

In Valais, centres adapt the opening hours based on planned vaccine deliveries, and not on demand, cantonal Public Health Service said.