Why did Switzerland reject Russia's coronavirus vaccine?
The Russian ambassador to Switzerland told Swiss media that his country has tried to make its vaccine available to Switzerland. But the Health Ministry reportedly turned a deaf ear to the offer.
The ambassador, Sergei Garmonin, said he approached the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) twice — on August 17th and December 22nd, 2020 — to offer Russia’s vaccine, named Sputnik V.
“We again informed the FOPH that that the vaccine's efficacy was greater than 90 percent, that its price was around ten dollars per box, and that it could be stored between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, ” Garmonin said. “We indicated that we are ready to consider the possibility of a pre-order for Switzerland”.
Bern has not responded to any of Russia’s offers, Garmonin said.
However, the drug authorisation agency, Swissmedic, said that Russia had never approached Switzerland, a charge that Garmonin denied.
FOPH is now facing a barrage of criticism for its lack of response to the offer.
Health experts and politicians argue that federal authorities are wrong for ruling out a vaccine from Russia in favour of ones manufactured in the West — Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Curevac, and Novavax.
"When I brought up the possibility of using the Russian vaccine last summer, I received a lot of negative comments", said Martin Bäumle from the Liberal Green Party.
He added that an “ideological or geopolitical” aspect is probably influencing the government’s decision.
Another critic, Andreas Faller, a lawyer specialising in health law, noted that in times of crisis, FOPH "has a duty to examine all vaccine offers”.
“The FOPH’s approach is shocking,” Swiss People’s Party adviser Therese Schläpfer noted, adding that “the race for the vaccine is huge. Not responding to an offer is disrespectful to Russia and the Swiss population ”.
What do we know about the Sputnik V vaccine?
“It appears safe and effective”, according to the British medical journal, Lancet, with an efficacy rate of over 90 percent — similar to Pfizer / BioNtech and Moderna, the two vaccines currently used in Switzerland.
Swiss authorities did say that the RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer seem to be more effective against new variants of the virus. This will not necessarily be the case with Sputnik, which uses other technologies.
What is the status of Switzerland’s vaccination programme?
The Pfizer and Moderna doses are currently in short supply, causing delays in appointments in many cantons.
One reason is that centres must keep a sufficient number of vaccines in reserve for the second round of shots for people who already received their first dose. While the second injection should usually be given four weeks after the first, some cantons are postponing the second dose of the vaccine to six weeks after the first shot.
To date, Switzerland has received 806,025 vaccine doses, 482,423 of which have been administered.
The cantons that have the highest vaccination rate are Nidwalden, Appennzeller Innerrhoden, and Basel City.