UPDATE: Which Covid-19 treatments are on the horizon in Switzerland?

With the number of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations increasing in Switzerland at an alarming rate, many people are wondering whether any treatments for this disease will be available soon. The Local looks at what new medications are on the horizon.

UPDATE: Which Covid-19 treatments are on the horizon in Switzerland?
Vaccine is one of the potential remedies for Covid-19. Photo by AFP

At the moment, there are no drugs to treat Covid-19 specifically, but one anti-viral medication, Remdesivir, has been used experimentally in Switzerland and elsewhere on infected patients, with varying results.

However, several new treatments are being developed and could reach the Swiss market in 2021.

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche has announced on Thursday that is it collaborating with an American company, Atea Pharmaceuticals, on the development of a drug, called AT-527, to treat coronavirus patients who have not been hospitalised. 

“If successful, AT-527 could help treat patients early, reduce the progression of the infection, and contribute to decreasing the overall burden on health systems”, the two companies said in a joint statement.

READ MORE: Switzerland's Roche developing oral coronavirus treatment 


Other treatments are being developed as well.

In August, Swiss authorities 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 (FOPH) 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.

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

Also in August, Roche has joined forces with an American biotechnology company, Regeneron, to develop, manufacture and distribute the investigational combination of two antiviral antibodies. 

The product “could provide a much-needed treatment option for people already experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, and also has the potential to prevent infection in people exposed to the virus”, Roche said in a statement.

What about 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 as 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.

On October 16th, the Swiss government has also concluded an agreement with a UK pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca and the Swedish government for the delivery of up to 5.3 million doses of their vaccine.

Switzerland is also participating in the COVAX programme to secure secure vaccines for 20 percent of its population. 

“The federal government is trying to conclude reservation agreements with various manufacturers whose vaccine projects are already at a well advanced stage and exhibiting promising results,” FOPH said.

However, “it remains unclear which vaccines will ultimately be authorised and made available to the Swiss population. Talks are therefore being held with various vaccine producers, with agreements being concluded in order to increase the chances of gaining access to a vaccine”.

FOPH added that before any vaccine is made available, it will be properly tested for safety and efficacy, and be approved by Swissmedic, the surveillance authority for all medicines and medical devices sold in Switzerland.


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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.