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Switzerland prepares to roll out Johnson and Johnson vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about to arrive in Switzerland. But only a limited number of people will be eligible for the one-shot inoculation.

Switzerland prepares to roll out Johnson and Johnson vaccine
Johnson & Johnson vaccines will soon be administered in Switzerland. Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP

The Federal Council is stepping up negotiations for the purchase of a small quantity of Johnson & Johnson vaccines and is expected to conclude the talks with the US manufacturer, Janssen, shortly, according to a report in Blick.

However, only 150,000 doses will be ordered versus 19.5 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines purchased by the government to date.

That’s because the new vaccine would be administered only to people who have severe allergies to Moderna and Pfizer, the only vaccines used in Switzerland to date.

READ MORE: What are the most common side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine in Switzerland?

This is what is known about Johnson & Johnson vaccines

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine – known as Janssen – uses a different technology than Moderna and Pfizer. It is based on viral vectors rather than mRNA.

The former uses a disactivated virus to trigger the immune system, while the latter tells the body how to respond to proteins produced by the disease-causing virus.

And unlike Moderna and Pfizer, which both require two injections to achieve immunity, Johnson & Johnson is a single-dose vaccine.

This has made it popular abroad in vaccine campaigns where people may be unlikely or unable to get a second shot, for instance in vaccinating homeless people or by setting up no appointment vaccine clinics. 

However, its effectiveness against Covid is lower. Study data shows an average efficacy of 66.9 percent of Janssen vaccines, while it is more than 90 percent for Moderna and Pfizer.

Who will be entitled to get the Johnson & Johnson shot?

The vaccine, which was approved for use in Switzerland in March, will be distributed to cantons, which will administer it to people over the age of 18 who have severe allergies and can’t vaccinated with the mRNA vaccine.

These candidates will have to prove their eligibility — for instance, with a letter from their doctor or other relevant documentation.

People who are truly intolerant to mRNA vaccines are rare, according to the report.

In the canton of Aargau, for instance, which has a population of around 686,000, only around 20 such cases are known.

For the moment, cantons are planning to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a single establishment on the territory.

However, there are no plans to replace the current mRNA vaccines by viral vector ones like Johnson & Johnson. The government already ordered 7 million doses each of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for 2022.

An important point: Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for use in the European Union, and those who will receive this vaccine in Switzerland will be able to get their Covid certificate.

READ MORE: Canton-by-canton: How visitors can get Switzerland’s Covid certificate

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Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Swiss government will not make second Covid boosters available until autumn, saying those who are currently fully vaccinated face a low risk of contracting the virus.

Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) announced on Tuesday that second Covid booster shots for general population will be available in the fall, “when the risk for individuals and the burden on the healthcare system will be greatest”.

While Switzerland had a widespread booster shot campaign against Covid, the government has been reluctant to approve second boosters other than for those in vulnerable categories. 

Right now, those with a weakened immune system and people over the age of 80 are the only ones eligible. 

People not in those risk groups who want a second booster will need to pay out of pocket for the jab. 

This may be people who feel they are in a risk group but are not included in the government’s list, or those who need a booster for travelling abroad. 

People who are travelling to countries where proof of up-to-date immunisation is required but whose Covid certificates are no longer valid, can receive the fourth dose but upon request have to pay for the shot.

Previously, all Covid boosters have been free for Swiss citizens and residents, with the government electing to cover the costs. 

How much will a Covid booster for travel cost? 

While the federal government previously covered the costs of the vaccines, it is now up to individual vaccination centres to set a price for a second booster. 

A spokesperson from the FOPH told The Local on Wednesday that the cost tends to be around CHF60 across much of the country. 

Please keep in mind that this cost only relates to second booster shots for those not in vulnerable categories. For those wanting their first booster – or indeed their first or second shot of the vaccine – the government will continue to cover the costs.