Half of Swiss population now double-jabbed against Covid

More than 50 percent of the Swiss population has now been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, statistics showed Tuesday, although immunisation rates are slowing even as cases and hospitalisations rise.

Half of Swiss population now double-jabbed against Covid

Switzerland is using the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, administering the doses four weeks apart. Government statistics showed that 50.1 percent of the population — 4,311,432 people — had received both injections.

A further 5.63 percent are partially vaccinated, having received their first dose.

People who have recovered from the virus within the last six months and have had one dose are also certified as fully vaccinated, but they are not yet counted as such in official statistics.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, was the first country in continental Europe to start using the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

Half the EU population had been fully vaccinated by August 3, according to an AFP tally. The Swiss vaccination rate has peaked and slowed off.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons are already offering Covid booster shots?

Some 2.14 million doses were administered in May; 2.42 million in June; 1.39 million in July, and 772,000 in the calendar month to Monday.

The vaccines are available to people aged 12 and over. Though the death rate is now very low, the number of daily new cases is rising towards the level seen in the third wave of the pandemic in April.

At the end of June, Switzerland lifted many of its remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

However, given the rapid spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19, the government last week decided to maintain the remaining measures such as wearing masks on public transport.

The Swiss Covid scientific task force’s president Tanja Stadler told a press conference in Bern that the number of new daily hospitalisations had doubled three times in a month.

“If three more doublings take place, we will be at the same level as the peak of the second wave,” in late 2020, she said.

“The Delta variant is so contagious that we have to count on the fact that each unvaccinated person will come into contact with SARS-CoV-2 and will be infected.”

Nearly 741,000 positive tests have been registered in Switzerland, while the pandemic has claimed 10,372 lives in the wealthy Alpine country.

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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?