Should Switzerland follow Britain’s coronavirus vaccination strategy?
Vaccinations are currently lagging in Switzerland, particularly when compared to the United Kingdom. Should Switzerland delay the time between doses and walk back its AstraZeneca rejection?
Despite high hopes, Switzerland’s vaccination rollout is currently lagging behind world leaders like Great Britain, the UAE, Israel and the United States.
As at March 1st, Switzerland has administered ten vaccinations per 100 people. This is behind Israel (95 shots per 100), the UAE (60), the United Kingdom (30.1) and the United States (22.73).
This does not mean that ten percent of the population is vaccinated, but rather that there have been ten shots per 100 people, indicating that some people will have received both doses.
How can Switzerland speed up vaccinations?
Besides increasing the risk of death and serious illness from Covid-19, delays in vaccinations also mean Switzerland’s lockdown is likely to be extended, along with restrictions on travel.
One possible idea to speed up the vaccination process has been to borrow a couple of ideas from the United Kingdom - most notably delaying the time between vaccine doses and reversing the decision to reject the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Extending the time between doses
One possible idea that Switzerland could borrow from the UK would be to delay the time between the first and second doses of the vaccines.
In the UK, at least 20 million people have received their first dose of the vaccine, compared with less than one million who have had both doses (approximately 800,000).
The time between first and second doses in the UK is 12 weeks, much longer than the 28 days recommended by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health.
The FOPH’s official recommendation also says that doses should not be given longer than six weeks apart.
However, studies from the United Kingdom have indicated that a longer gap would not have negative impacts - and in some cases may actually improve the immune response.
Research also illustrates that one dose provides significant protection against symptoms of Covid-19.
German researchers indicated they were looking into extending the gap between first and second mRNA doses from 28 days to 60 or even 90 days, in order to speed up the process.
Prominent politician and health expert Karl Lauterbach said such a policy change could result in up to 14,000 fewer deaths in Germany.
Will Switzerland adopt such a change?
At this stage, it appears Switzerland is unlikely to follow the UK’s vaccination strategy - or to seriously consider it, as Germany is doing.
Christoph Berger, President of the Federal Commission for Vaccination Issues (EKIF), told Swiss newspaper Watson that the focus must be on ensuring the most vulnerable are completely protected - rather than vaccinating larger numbers of the population.
“The group that is currently being vaccinated, i.e. the elderly and particularly vulnerable, must be fully protected,” said Berger.
What about approving the AstraZeneca vaccine?
One further solution may be to alter the recommendation not to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine - particularly as doses of the vaccine are available and Switzerland has already agreed to purchase 5.5 million doses.
While 11 of the EU’s 27 member states declined to recommend the vaccine for people over 65, Switzerland decided not to approve the vaccine for any age group - being the only European country to do so.
France has already indicated it will change its recommendation to allow over 65s to get vaccinated due to new data on the vaccine, while Germany is considering doing the same.
Although Swiss health officials said they will issue an updated recommendation in mid-March, the Swiss government has begun investigations into selling its 5.5 million doses.
Swiss health officials have indicated that the rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccine has not added to the delays in the vaccine rollout.
Swiss officials hope that vaccines from Novavax and Curevac, which will arrive in May, along with Johnson and Johnson, will replace those planned from AstraZeneca.
However, commentators have pointed out that an additional 5.5 million doses would help to curtail supply problems, even if the vaccine was only administered to people under 65.