Why has Switzerland ordered over 35 million doses of coronavirus vaccine?

Why has Switzerland ordered over 35 million doses of coronavirus vaccine?
Moderna s one of the two vaccines approved to date. Photo by AFP
Switzerland’s population is about 8.6 million, but the government has signed agreements with several manufacturers to buy over 35 million doses. Why so many?

To date, Swiss authorities have contracted with five vaccine manufacturers: Moderna (13.5 million doses), Pfizer/BioNTech (6 million), AstraZeneca (5.3 million), and most recently Curevac (5 million) and Novavax (6 million).

READ MORE: Switzerland doubles Pfizer-Biontech coronavirus vaccine order

That amounts to 35.8 million doses. Even though all five vaccines must be administered in two doses, the amount is enough for nearly 17 million people — a number exceeding by far the country’s population.

Does Switzerland really need that many vaccines?

“The idea behind procuring vaccines from different manufacturers is to make sure that sufficient doses of an approved vaccine are available to the public, even if there are delivery problems”, the Federal Office of Public Health said in a statement. 

READ MORE: Switzerland’s Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine 

FOPH’s vice-director Nora Kronig said at a press conference in Bern on Wednesday that Switzerland must be prepared for further coronavirus mutations that may emerge in the future.

“Given that the course of the pandemic is so hard to assess, the federal government is still in negotiations with various vaccine manufacturers”, the government said.

Authorities are reportedly also negotiating a supply agreement the American company Johnson & Johnson, although that particular vaccine has not yet been approved for use.

The Federal Council originally approved 300 million francs for the purchase or vaccines, but is now spending 800 million, Kronig said. 

So far, only the Pfizer and Moderna have been approved for use in Switzerland.

Even though the EU Commission approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday and it has been widely used in the UK, Switzerland’s regulatory body, Swissmedic, said on Wednesday it will not approve this vaccine at this time due to insufficient data. 

More information on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine is needed from additional studies to make an accurate approval assessment, Swissmedic said. 

“With the data currently available from clinical studies, we can’t recommend this vaccine to people over 64 years of age and high-risk patients”, Christoph Berger, president of the Federal Commission on Vaccination, said in an interview. 

Health Minister Alain Berset explained that the rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not expected to cause disruptions in the country’s vaccination programme.

“What can be said is we are on track. With the new contracts we can achieve our goal by the end of summer”, Kronig added.

READ MORE: Will Switzerland’s rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccine delay vaccinations? 

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