Just days ago, the drug approval authority, Swissmedic, said that first vaccinations are not expected to take place in Switzerland until the spring, due to a lengthy and rigorous testing process.
But in a press conference on Thursday, Berset said vaccines are likely to be ready earlier.
“We can expect the first doses to be available, if all goes well, by the end of January. It would mean that we could start vaccinating at that point”.
He added, however, that the earlier release date doesn’t mean Swissmedic will rush through the approval process.
“These vaccines will only be approved if they meet all the requirements,” Berset said, noting that, unlike the United States where the vaccine is expected to be made available in December, “there is no emergency approval procedure planned in Switzerland”.
The first round of immunisations will be “low volumes. A large-scale process will happen later”.
According to Berset, the elderly and those suffering from serious chronic illnesses will be the first to be vaccinated, while the general public will be offered immunisations at a later date.
The Health Minister also said that the government is planning to offer the vaccine for free to anyone who wants it.
And regarding the debate about whether everyone in Switzerland will have to immunised, he reiterated that “vaccination will not be compulsory. I insist once again on this”.
But there is still the possibility that people whose work brings them in close contact with the public would be required to undergo a vaccination.
Berset pointed out in September that he is “open” to mandating the vaccine for those who work in the healthcare sector and elderly care homes.
Launching a vaccination programme “is extremely complicated logistically”, Berset said. This is due to the infrastructure that must be set up to administer the vaccines.
For instance, Basel cantonal doctor Thomas Steffen said Basel-City will initially vaccinate in large premises, such as the city’s massive exhibition centre, “an ideal venue” due to its size.
Steffen estimated that “at least 40,000 people will have to be vaccinated in Basel-City. The risk group alone is that big”.
Other cantons have not yet released vaccination plans for their territories.