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How fast is Switzerland vaccinating its population compared to other European countries?

The pace of Europe's vaccination campaigns against Covid-19 is steadily improving but in some countries more than others. We take a look at how countries in Europe compare in the race to inoculate their population.

How fast is Switzerland vaccinating its population compared to other European countries?
A mass vaccination centre in an exhibition hall in Nice, France Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

European countries’ vaccination campaigns started at a snail’s pace and have come in for huge criticism domestically and from abroad but the pace is certainly picking up.

Germany on Wednesday administered a record 656,000 doses, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), not too far off the UK’s daily record of 844,000 injections. On Thursday Germany topped 700,000 jabs.

Then France on Thursday announced that it had met its target of giving at least one Covid vaccine injection to 10 million people, one week ahead of schedule, while also setting a daily record of 437,000 vaccinations. 

Vaccination efforts have also picked up in Spain. The country’s health authorities beat the record for daily administered doses with 336,846 on Wednesday April 7th and then 456,682 the following day. But there have been problems in Italy, where targets have been missed.

March and April have also seen other countries covered by The Local’s network catch up with Denmark — by far the fastest European Union country off the block in January and February — as constraints in vaccine supply became a more important limiting factor than efficiency in administering doses. 

READ ALSO: Why are vaccination appointments still available in Zurich?

By the start of April, the nine countries covered by The Local were closely bunched together in terms of the number of doses administered by 100 people, with the leader Denmark on 19.77, and the laggard, Sweden, on 16.55. 

As of April 8th, Well over 60m people in the European Union have now at least one dose of a vaccine: 12.2m in Germany, or 14.6 percent of the population, 10.2m in France (15.2%), 8.4m ( 13.8%) in Italy, 6.8m (14.5%) in Spain, 1.4m (15.5) in Austria, and 1.3m (13.0) in Sweden. 

The chart below shows the total number of doses administered, adding up both first and second jabs.

According to Denmark’s infectious diseases agency SSI, 835, 271 people had received at least one dose on April 8th (14.3%), while according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 835,970 people (15.7 percent) had been. 

In this chart, you can see how other countries have steadily caught up with the lead set by Denmark, except perhaps Sweden.

What’s behind the increased speed of vaccination? 

This week around 35,000 GP surgeries in Germany have started vaccinating patients across the states, helping to increase the speed of the inoculation campaign. This boost will increase in the week of April 26th when the number of doses available to GPs will more than triple to three million a week. 

France, meanwhile, has recently opened around 30 giant mass-vaccination centres or “vaccinodromes” in exhibition halls, stadiums, and other large venues,  with the Groupama stadium in Lyon carrying out 10,000 vaccinations over the Easter weekend alone. 

Otherwise, the faster pace largely reflects increased vaccine deliveries as well as the fact that governments have opened vaccination programmes up to wider age groups after priority groups such as care home residents were almost all vaccinated.

Mind the gap: how long are countries leaving between doses? 

France’s decision to allow a relatively long 12-week gap between doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine, and 3-6 weeks between doses for Pfizer and Moderna, has enabled it to overtake Denmark when it comes to the share of the population. Germany’s Permanent Vaccination Commission on March 4th recommended extending the gap between the first and second AstraZeneca dose to a maximum of 12 weeks. 

Austria has also pulled ahead, with close to 15 percent of the population having received at least one dose, thanks in part to a March 24th recommendation from the National Vaccination Board to extend the gap between doses for both the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccine by “two to three weeks”, so that the second dose is given at six-week intervals. 

But when it comes to the share of the population who are fully vaccinated (two doses), Denmark is still comfortably ahead. Switzerland, the country in the Local’s network where the lowest share of the population has received at least one dose, is second only to Denmark in the share of the population who are fully vaccinated. 

With deliveries of millions of vaccines planned from April on, Switzerland’s largest cities are ramping up their infrastructure allowing them to inoculate thousands of people each day.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – How Switzerland is speeding up its Covid vaccination campaign

France, meanwhile, has by far the lowest proportion of its population fully vaccinated of any country in The Local’s network. 

How significant an impact has the pause in administering AstraZeneca jabs had? 

The effects of the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca vaccines is clear if you look at a chart of the seven-day average of daily doses given per 100,000 people between March 11th, when Denmark suspended use of the AstraZeneca jab, and April 8th, when Denmark and Norway are the only countries in The Local’s network yet to resume using it. 

Austria, which only temporarily suspended the use of one suspect batch of the vaccine, surged ahead from March 12th, while Denmark dropped from its leading position to temporarily become the slowest vaccinating country covered by The Local.

After Germany, France, Italy, and Spain resume AstraZeneca vaccinations on March 19th, they started to pull ahead of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, which kept the suspension in place while health authorities further studied the evidence. Last week, Norway and Denmark, administered the lowest number of doses of any country covered by The Local. 

Switzerland, meanwhile, whose medicines agency has yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, continued along the same lacklustre trajectory. 

Who has done the best at protecting the most vulnerable risk groups? 

Of all the country’s in The Local’s network, Italy has prioritised health workers the most, with over 90 percent of health workers having had at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to less than 60 percent of those over the age of 80. 

Most other countries have prioritised the over-80s.

According to data released on April 8th by Spain’s health ministry, 87.4 percent of those over the age of 80 have received at least one dose of a vaccine in Spain, but just 9.1 percent of 70-79 years olds, and 20.8 percent of 60-69 year olds. 

According to France’s VaccinTracker website, 63 percent of those over the age of 75 have had at least one dose of a vaccine, of whom 34 percent have had both doses. 

Germany’s vaccination dashboard on March 31st stopped updating data on what share of vaccines had been given to health workers and which to elderly. But at that point 48.8 percent of the total doses had been to people prioritised due to age, of whom 12.7 percent were care home residents, and 39.9 percent to health staff. 

According to the vaccination data site of Denmark’s SSI infectious diseases institute, 93 percent of men over the age of 90 and 92 percent of women have had at least one dose, while 86.4 percent and 84.9 percent had had two. Of those between the ages of 80 and 89, 86.3 percent of men and 86.2 percent of women have had at least one dose, while 45.9 percent and 49.3 percent have had both. Only 29.8 percent of men and 27.8 percent of women between the ages of 70 and 79 have had their first dose, while only 13.1 percent and 12 percent have had both. 

According to the Swedish Public Health Agency’s vaccination data site, 88 percent over over-90s have received at least one dose, and 68 percent two doses, 84.6 percent of 80 to 89-year-olds have received at least one dose and 36 percent two doses and only 33 percent of 70 to 79-year-olds have received one dose and 8 percent two doses. 

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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?