UPDATE: First person receives coronavirus vaccine in Switzerland

A 90-year-old woman in the canton of Lucerne has become the first person to be vaccinated in Switzerland.

UPDATE: First person receives coronavirus vaccine in Switzerland
A man walks past a vaccination sign in the canton of Lucerne. Photo: DPA

The woman, from a rural part of the canton, received the vaccine just after 10am in a mobile vaccination centre in the city of Lucerne. 

As reported by The Local Switzerland, Lucerne and Appenzell Innerrhoden are the first Swiss cantons to start vaccinations. 

READ: When will coronavirus vaccinations start in your Swiss canton? 

While widespread vaccinations of risk groups are set to start in January, a handful of cantons are set to start in December. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the first delivery of coronavirus vaccines – 107,000 doses – arrived in Switzerland. 

The vaccine will be available to the general public from late Spring. 

Lucerne Health Director Guido Graf told 20 Minutes “Lucerne is well prepared for the start of the vaccinations”.

“I am very satisfied that we have now been able to start vaccinations in the canton of Lucerne. These vaccinations are an important element in the fight against the coronavirus,” Graf said.

Pandemic continuing to strike Switzerland

Britain was the first country in the world to deploy the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan receiving the jab on December 8.

The European Union, of which Switzerland, like Britain, is not a member, is scheduled to start vaccinations on December 27.

Switzerland is battling high levels of new cases and deaths.

The country of 8.6 million people has seen a total of more than 415,000 infections and over 6,300 deaths since the pandemic began.

The Swissmedic regulatory authority announced on Saturday that it had approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following a two-month rolling review.

“After a meticulous review of the available information, Swissmedic concluded that the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech is safe and that its benefit outweighs the risks,” Swissmedic said.

The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions — two million people in total — will be first in line for immunisation.

More elderly and nursing home residents in Lucerne will receive the first of the two required vaccine doses in the coming days, the canton said.

The second jab is administered three weeks after the first.

Army distributing doses

Produced by US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, the vaccine is based on a new technology that uses genetic material in the form of mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid).

The Swiss army is receiving, storing and distributing the vaccine doses, which must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

The army was expecting delivery of nearly 107,000 doses initially, with 250,000 per month to follow from January.

Swissmedic said the data it reviewed showed that seven days after the second injection, the level of protection afforded was above 90 percent in adults.

The regulator said the most frequently-documented side effects were “comparable with those after a flu vaccination”.

The vaccine is not mandatory but is free of charge. Switzerland has secured around 15.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, in deals with three manufacturers.

It has signed contracts for around three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, around 7.5 million doses of Moderna's vaccine, and around 5.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

With each of the three different vaccines, two doses are required per person.

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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