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HEALTH

Why Switzerland might have to wait longer than other countries for a coronavirus vaccine

A number of other countries have predicted a vaccine rollout in December, while in Switzerland it is not expected until the spring. Why might the Swiss have to wait so long?

Why Switzerland might have to wait longer than other countries for a coronavirus vaccine
A sign on a pharmacy in the United States tells customers that the Covid-19 vaccine is not yet available. Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP

With three coronavirus vaccines now entering the final research stages and showing high degrees of effectiveness, countries across the world have begun to set up their infrastructure to rollout a nationwide vaccination program. 

When will the vaccine be available in Switzerland and internationally? 

In the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, vaccinations are expected to start to take place in December. 

The head of the US vaccination program said on Sunday that vaccination centres would be set up by December 11th, while authorities in Germany and England have given mid-December as the date of the planned rollout. 

In Switzerland however, the first vaccinations are not expected until the spring. The prediction comes from Swiss medical authority SwissMedic and has been widely reported in the Swiss media

IN NUMBERS: Reasons to be optimistic about the coronavirus situation in Switzerland 

Switzerland is rich so why do we have to wait so long? 

That Switzerland will need to wait longer than its neighbours has little to do with wealth and more to do with the way the country’s medical approval system has been established. 

As reported by Watson on Tuesday, “with regard to corona vaccination, nothing works in Switzerland without the Swissmedic drug control (process). It decides when a vaccine comes onto the market.”

As a result “an approval in December is unlikely. But it should be ready by spring.”

What does Switzerland need to do to approve the drug?

Firstly, Swissmedic will take into account all the documentation and results from the existing clinical trials which have taken place up until this point. 

Once this information has been received and studied, an initial decision regarding authorising the vaccine or vaccines can be made. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to roll out the coronavirus vaccine 

“We hope to receive more meaningful data from approval studies at the beginning of 2021 and are preparing to be able to make a decision quickly,” Swissmedic spokesman Lukas Jaggi told Watson

Does size matter in the approval process?

While the US, the UK and Germany are much larger, evidence from Switzerland’s neighbours shows that size is not a major factor. 

Austria said on Tuesday, November 24th that it expected the vaccine rollout to start in the first week of January 2021. 

The most crucial factor is the time it takes for the vaccine manufacturer to deliver the relevant information to Swiss authorities, according to Swissmedic. 

Given that most governments are likely to receive the information at the same time, it would suggest that it is the approval process rather than the tardiness of the pharmaceutical companies which will delay the vaccinations. 

“There are still too many questions unanswered,” Jaggi said. 

Why does approval take so long? 

Switzerland, through Swissmedic, has some of the world’s highest standards and strictest test approval processes, reports Watson, particularly in comparison with the United States 

Swiss Pharma boss: 'I support compulsory coronavirus vaccination'

“In the USA, there are comparatively low hurdles for emergency approval,” writes Adrian Müller. 

“Put simply, it must be ensured that a drug or vaccine demonstrably helps more than it does harm. 

“In the emergency procedure, the vaccinated people – to put it bluntly – become extended study participants or even guinea pigs. 

“Switzerland is taking a different, less risky path.”

While those in risk groups are expected to be vaccinated first, Swiss medical procedure requires specific data to be obtained about the impact of the vaccine on risk groups before vaccination can begin. 

“Older and risk groups are usually only included in a second step of the approval studies,” Jaggi said. 

This information will therefore only be available later, delaying the rollout of the vaccine. 

 

 

Member comments

  1. Swissmedic’s intransigence is why neither the high-dose nor the adjuvanted influenza vaccine, which are strongly recommended for those 65 and older (due to older people’s lower immune response to the regular flu vaccines), is available in CH. These special 65+ flu vaccines are approved and available in the US and throughout the EU.

  2. Swissmedic’s intransigence is why neither the high-dose nor the adjuvanted influenza vaccine, which are strongly recommended for those 65 and older (due to older people’s lower immune response to the regular flu vaccines), is available in CH. These special 65+ flu vaccines are approved and available in the US and throughout the EU.

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For members

HEALTH

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
 

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