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Switzerland tells cantons to use up their vaccine reserves

As Switzerland is expecting the delivery of millions of vaccines in May, federal authorities have told cantons to dip into their "second dose" reserves to speed up the pace of inoculations.

Switzerland tells cantons to use up their vaccine reserves
Moderna is one of the two vaccines delivered to Switzerland. The other is from Pfizer/Biontech. Photo by Steve Parsons / POOL / AFP

The country’s vaccination programme has been beset by late deliveries leading to supply shortages.

These problems put into doubt the government’s prediction that anyone who wanted to be vaccinated would get a jab by summer.

Now, however, it seems that the vaccinations are getting back on track, as Switzerland will receive at least 8 million doses of the Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna vaccines between now and the end of July.

From May, delivery volumes are expected to increase significantly, the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) announced in a press release on Thursday.

Cantonal health authorities will now use up their remaining vaccines, which they have kept in reserve to ensure there are enough doses to guarantee second jabs.

“The cantons can now draw on their vaccine reserves until the end of April. The second dose will be guaranteed thanks to future deliveries”, FDHA said.

This strategy will allow all cantons, including those that have been lagging behind, “to speed up the pace of vaccinations and to extend the opportunity to be vaccinated quicker to more age groups”.

With more vaccines and stepped up pace “it is now realistic to offer everyone who wants it at least a first dose by the end of June”, FDHA added.

READ MORE: ‘Stingy’: Why some Swiss GPs are not carrying out Covid vaccinations

As this map from the Federal Office of Public Health shows, the cantons that have administered the fewest doses are Zurich, Schwyz and Nidwalden, while Geneva, Neuchâtel, and Uri are Swiss leaders.

On April 11th, the day this most recent data was generated, cantons had about 485,000 doses in reserve, which will now be released for use.

How will cantons catch up on delayed vaccinations?

Switzerland’s largest cities are setting up vaccination units in big venues where inoculations can be given to thousands of people every day.

One such centre is the enormous Zurich Exhibition Hall, which can administer 4,000 shots daily.

Another is in Basel’s equally large exhibition centre, which also has the capacity to handle thousands of vaccines each day.

And from April 19th, Geneva will vaccinate on the grounds of its huge Palexpo centre, which will offer a potential injection capacity of 4,000 doses per day.

READ MORE: How Switzerland is speeding up its vaccination programme

In all, the government ordered 13.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine, 6 million each of Pfizer / Biontech and Novavax, and 5 million of Curevac.

So far, only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being administered in Switzerland. 

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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?