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Covid-19 vaccines: What are the rules for pregnant women in Switzerland?

After months of uncertainty, the Swiss government has updated its policy on Covid vaccinations for pregnant women. Here’s what you need to know.

Can pregnant women get vaccinated in Switzerland? According to the latest recommendation, every pregnant woman from 12 weeks should get vaccinated in Switzerland.
Can pregnant women get vaccinated in Switzerland? Photo: Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Switzerland has recently updated its recommendation for Covid-19 vaccines for pregnant women. 

Many countries across the world have removed medical barriers for pregnant women wanting to get vaccinated against Covid.

However, resistance has been particularly strong in German-speaking countries at least in part due to memories of the Thalidomide/Contergan experience in West Germany in the 1950s, which led to deaths and deformations in babies. 

In summer of 2020, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said that pregnant women are at a higher risk from coronavirus than women of the same age who are not pregnant, placing them in the official risk group. 

Studies have shown that pregnant women are likely to get sicker if they are infected with Covid than non-pregnant people. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States:

“Based on what is known at this time, pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19 compared to non-pregnant women. Additionally, pregnant women with Covid-19 might have an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth”.

Figures from September 2021 showed that one in five women of childbearing age hospitalised with Covid were pregnant. 

Can and should pregnant women get vaccinated in Switzerland? 

Initially, the FOPH had excluded pregnant women from the vaccination campaign, arguing that “so far, there are few findings or data on the effects of the COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy”.

It revised its position on April 14th, possibly in view of international studies that “did not show obvious safety signals among pregnant persons who received mRNA Covid-19 vaccine (i.e. those used in Switzerland)”.

As of mid-September 2021 however, the government formally issued a recommendation that pregnant women get the jab. 

Christoph Berger, President of the Federal Commission for Vaccination Issues (Ekif) told the media that women should get vaccinated from 12 weeks on. 

“The recommendation has already been made in a similar way in other countries,” said Berger, pointing to the more than 150,000 pregnant women who have been vaccinated in the United States. 

Although the Swiss government said there was no evidence to show risk before 12 weeks, they were reluctant to recommend it earlier due to the prevalence of miscarriages and other unforeseen events at this stage in the pregnancy, which may lead to coincidences which might make people question the vaccine. 

New evidence shows that increasing numbers of pregnant women with Covid end up in intensive care units.

One patient fell ill with corona in the ninth month of pregnancy and found it difficult to breathe despite an oxygen mask. “We repeatedly have pregnant women or patients after an early delivery due to a Covid infection in the intensive care unit,” said Petra Ming, spokeswoman for the Inselspital. The women would then have to stay for several weeks.

More and more expectant mothers are also being admitted to the Zurich University Hospital.

” So far we have cared for between 15 and 20 pregnant women in the intensive care unit”, according to Romana Brun, senior physician at the USZ’s obstetrics clinic. One patient even had to be connected to the heart-lung machine.

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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.