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COVID-19 VACCINES

UPDATE: What is the risk of catching Covid and getting sick in Switzerland if you are vaccinated?

Official statistics released on Thursday have shed light on the risk of catching Covid - and the likely course of illness - in Switzerland if you have been vaccinated.

UPDATE: What is the risk of catching Covid and getting sick in Switzerland if you are vaccinated?
Getting vaccinated significantly reduces the risk of getting Covid, getting hospitalised or dying. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

This article was last updated in early September, 2021. 

Each week, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health releases up to date figures on the number of confirmed infections in the country, as well as hospitalisation and death info. 

When cross-referenced with the people who have been vaccinated, the data gives an indication as to the true danger the virus poses to people who have already had the jab. 

It also provides some valuable context to the highly publicised ‘success rate’ of Covid vaccines. 

For both of the vaccines administered in Switzerland – the Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech jab – there is a success rate in the 90 percent range. 

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland rejects obligatory vaccinations for some professions

The hard data illustrates how low the risk is in Switzerland of catching Covid if you have been vaccinated – with an even lower risk of illness or even death. 

What does the data show about catching Covid when vaccinated in Switzerland? 

In total, just under 4,400,000 people are fully vaccinated (i.e. have received two shots) in Switzerland. 

This works out to be roughly 50 percent of the Swiss population, with a further 5.6 percent of Swiss having had one dose as at August 5th. 

Of the 4,199,690 people who have been fully vaccinated in Switzerland, 460 are confirmed to have caught the coronavirus since January of 2021. 

As a percentage, that is 0.01 percent of all of those who have had the jab. 

Swiss health officials however point out that this is only confirmed cases. 

Given that those who have been vaccinated will avoid the worst symptoms of the virus, there is the chance that some of those who have been vaccinated have had the virus without knowing and without getting a confirmed test. 

“The number of cases is an underestimation because there are people who caught Covid after being vaccinated who were neither recorded in a hospital nor on an outpatient basis,” the FOPH wrote. 

“The numbers are therefore slightly higher. Despite this uncertainty, these cases of fully vaccinated people who become infected are low and they are within the expected range.”

What about hospitalisations and deaths?

While the number of confirmed cases is remarkably low, the figures are even lower for people who have been hospitalised or who have died after being vaccinated. 

According to science journalist Volkart Wildermuth, if people over the age of 80 have a 10 percent chance of dying from Covid, vaccination can reduce this to one percent.

“That’s a big difference,” he told Deutschland Funk on Monday.

In total, there have been 96 hospitalisations out of 4,199,690 vaccinated people. This works out to 0.002 percent. 

Of those who have been hospitalised, one was in their 30s, four in their 40s, 11 in their 50s, nine in their 60s, 21 in their 70s and 50 over the age of 80. 

Of the total number of people who have been vaccinated fully since Switzerland’s vaccination campaign began in late 2020, there have been 19 deaths. 

This works out to 0.0005 of those who have been fully vaccinated. 

One of those who died was in their 50s, while the remaining 18 were above the age of 80. 

Therefore, while the vaccines are not 100 percent effective in preventing catching the virus, being hospitalised and dying, the statistical possibility is remarkably low. 

Why is this happening?

As stated above, vaccines (Covid and others) are not 100 percent effective. This means, at least in case of Moderna and Pfizer, that a small percentage of people might still get contaminated.

As FOPH figures show, the effectiveness of vaccination is significantly higher in high-risk patients, including the elderly and people with chronic illnesses.

While this group of people was hospitalised most often before the immunisation campaign was launched, they are currently the least affected by breakthrough cases, as the rate of vaccination among this group exceeds 80 percent.

Among people over 60 years of age, 51 of 56 who caught the virus were not vaccinated. Only five ended up in the hospital despite being inoculated, according to Watson’s data.

However, Walter Zingg, chief medical officer of the infectious disease department at the University Hospital Zurich pointed out to Swiss news outlet Watson that “it is difficult to keep meaningful statistics”, due to the low number of cases.

Can vaccinated people die from Covid?

It is very unlikely and severe outcomes remain very rare.

“Those who are vaccinated hardly ever end up in the hospital, let alone in intensive care”, Zingg said.

Also, the course of the disease is much milder in people who have been vaccinated.

“Vaccinated people who end up in hospital often only needed extra oxygen,” rather than intubation, according to Peter Vollenweider, head of the department of internal medicine at Vaud’s University Hospital (CHUV).

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

Even as other countries have started to administer fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the infections are on the rise again, Swiss health authorities still haven’t rolled out second boosters. This is why, and what lies ahead.

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

As The Local reported on Tuesday, coronavirus is circulating again in Switzerland and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

In fact, over a million people in Switzerland could catch the virus this summer.

 “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.

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

Data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) indicates that the upward trend is already underway. The number of new reported cases has been soaring in the past few weeks — from below 10,000 a week in mid-April and beginning of May, to 24,704 new cases in the past seven days.

These are officially registered contaminations, but as “most of infected people will not be tested, the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler pointed out.

Although nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are more contagious but 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.

What is FOPH’s official stance on second boosters?

Health authorities are currently recommending them only for people in high-risk categories — that is, those with a very weak immune system.

“There is no need for the general public to receive an additional booster vaccination in the current situation. According to available data, people who are fully vaccinated or vaccinated and cured are still well protected against severe forms of COVID-19”, FOPH said on May 23rd.

There has been no change in strategy since then, despite the increasing infection rates.

However, authorities relented on one point: they now allow fourth doses to be administered to people whose Covid certificates have expired but who plan to travel to countries where up-to-date immunisations are required.

FOPH said these travellers can get “off-label” shots — meaning being vaccinated before the official authorisation to do so is issued — but these doses will not be free of charge.

“The price will be set by the cantons and the vaccination centres”, FOPH said, adding, however, that “second boosters for people with weakened immune systems will remain free”.

Why are Swiss health authorities dragging their feet in authorising second boosters?

As with the original vaccine rollout at the beginning of 2021, which took longer here than elsewhere, Swiss slowness may be due to the abundance of caution. For instance, drugs regulator Swissmedic “took longer than many countries to approve new vaccines”.

This time around, FOPH is taking its time to examine benefits of second boosters for general population (as opposed to at-risk groups).

Part of it may be the uncertainty prevailing over the efficacy of vaccines, which were conceived to combat the original early strains like Delta, not the variants, and sub-variants, that emerged later.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

So when will Switzerland authorise second boosters?

Health officials said they will issue official recommendations “before the summer holidays”, which means shortly.

Two scenarios are currently  foreseen by FOPH: “It may be that an additional booster vaccination is recommended only for people over 65 and those suffering from certain chronic diseases, but it is also possible that it will be intended for the entire population”.

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

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