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COVID-19 VACCINES

UPDATED: How can I get my Covid booster shot in Switzerland?

Switzerland has indicated it is investigating booster shots at a federal level, while several cantons have already started administering third doses. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATED: How can I get my Covid booster shot in Switzerland?
Switzerland hasn’t decided when to give booster shots. Photo by Valentin FLAURAUD / AFP

When it comes to post-vaccine immunity, many questions arise but few can be answered with any degree of certainty.

One of these questions is: when will the booster shot become necessary and is Switzerland ready to administer it?

Switzerland has indicated it is investigating how to implement booster shots at a federal level, while they’ve already begun in one canton. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Does Switzerland have a firm strategy in place?

First, the good news: Switzerland has enough vaccines to go around: 19.5 million doses of Moderna and six million doses of Pfizer / Biontech. This amounts to nearly 26 million doses.

At two doses per person, this means there are sufficient doses for roughly 13 million people — the entire 8.7-million population, plus enough left over for boosters.

Covid booster vaccinations in Switzerland: What you need to know

In June, Health Minister Alain Berset said that the vaccine is effective in protecting against coronavirus for a year. This means that for people who got their shots at the beginning of the inoculation campaign in January, the immunity may be declining soon.

While Israel already started giving boosters to people over 65 and Germany will begin to do so in September for the elderly, Switzerland has been slow in deciding when to start.

On July 21st, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) updated its Covid vaccination advice, recommending a third dose for people with severe immunodeficiency.

According to Virginie Masserey, head of FOPH’s infection control unit, this is a very small group of people.

At the end of August, the FOPH indicated it would recommend booster shots be expanded to broader high risk groups and older people, with some health experts calling for them to be rolled out in October. 

Which cantons are administering booster shots in Switzerland?  

As it stands, information on booster shots is known only by the cantons and has not been shared with federal authorities. 

The canton of Basel-City already started administering booster shots to residents with a particularly weak immune systems on August 6th.

As at August 11th nine people have received a third booster shot, but no further data has been released.

Since then, several other cantons have followed, including Bern, Zurich, Solothurn, Zug, Schaffhausen, Thurgau and Aargau.

Blick said the majority of cantons that were asked were already administering booster shots, although the newspaper did not indicate which cantons had been asked – and which had not. 

Bern has started Covid booster shots, confirming to Swiss tabloid Blick that several have been administered already. 

Like in Basel, these booster shots have been targeted at people in high-risk categories. 

“The purpose of a third vaccination is to build up good vaccination protection in immunocompromised patients” a spokesperson told Blick. 

Zurich has already vaccinated 40 people a third time, Blick reports, with those who have a “severe lack of immunity” targeted. 

“The purpose of a third vaccination is to build up good vaccination protection for weakened patients,” said Jan Fehr, infectious agent and professor at the University of Zurich.

“Such third vaccinations for immunocompromised people are not a booster, but a completion of the basic vaccination.”

When will the general public get a booster shot in Switzerland? 

 While concrete plans are not yet in place, it looks likely that booster shots will be made available in late autumn. 

As The Local reported, government said that “in order to ensure sufficient protection in the longer term, booster vaccinations for certain population groups or those already vaccinated will probably be necessary from next winter at the earliest.”

The federal government has instructed the responsible authorities to work with the cantons to ensure the infrastructure remains in place to administer booster shots, most likely early in 2022. 

However, on August 3rd, the government said it was still in the process of drawing up plans for a booster vaccination, saying that exactly who would receive it and under what circumstances was to be determined.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Switzerland planning for Covid booster shots in winter

“We are looking at the scenario where Switzerland starts with a third dose in the fall, Masserey said, adding that “this decision must be taken on the basis of clear and proven facts. Israel’s is based solely on observations. We are awaiting scientific data”.

However, former FOPH director Andreas Faller warned that Swiss health officials should not take too long to decide on the booster strategy.

“We need to learn from our past mistakes and take the data coming out of Israel seriously. We cannot afford to waste precious time once again”, he said.

READ MORE: MAPS: Where are Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspots?
 

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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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