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COVID-19 VACCINES

Switzerland set to approve Covid vaccines for children

Children between the ages of five and 12 will soon be eligible for vaccination in Switzerland.

A child wearing a mask scribbles in a book in a school class.
A child in a lesson wearing a mask. Switzerland will vaccinate people as young as five after the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine's imminent approval. INA FASSBENDER / AFP

Swiss vaccine taskforce boss Tanja Stadler said on Monday that Covid vaccines will soon be approved for children between five and 12 years of age. 

New data on the safety and effectiveness of the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine has been made available to Swiss vaccine regulator Swissmedic. 

While children tend to have a milder course of the virus than others, particularly elderly people and those in high risk categories, in some instances Covid infection can lead to serious illness and even death. 

“Biontech / Pfizer has provided preliminary data for five to eleven year olds that are due to be submitted for approval soon. The virus is much less dangerous for children than for the elderly. Nevertheless, there are also severe courses and long covid in children.”

In addition, vaccinating children is seen as a key step in achieving herd immunity, as well as preventing continued outbreaks in the country’s schools. 

Currently, both the Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved for teenagers aged 12 and up since July. 

Stadler, who said she would vaccinate her own children as soon as this was approved, said this was essential in ensuring the country returns to normality. 

COMPARED: How Covid vaccination rules for children differ around Europe

“The vaccines are safe, effective and recommendable. I rely on the judgement (of Swiss medic),” Stadler told Swiss news outlet Blick on Monday. 

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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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