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COVID-19 VACCINES

EXPLAINED: What will Switzerland’s ‘vaccine week’ look like?

The Federal Council announced a large-scale campaign to encourage more people in Switzerland to get Covid shots. This is what’s being planned.

Switzerland seeks to increase its lagging vaccination rate
Switzerland’s upcoming vaccination offensive aims to get more people inoculated against Covid. Pool photo / AFP

On Wednesday, Health Minister Alain Berset outlined a vaccine offensive to boost Switzerland’s lagging vaccination rate. 

The centrepiece of the large-scale offensive will be a “Vaccination Week”, to be held across Switzerland from November 8th to 14th.

Why is the government launching this campaign?

The aim is to persuade more holdouts to get jabbed and raise Switzerland’s inoculation rate which, with only 61 percent fully vaccinated residents, is trailing behind the European average.

Immunisation “remains the best way out of the current crisis”, the government said.  

“It is only with a significantly higher vaccination rate that the population can be sufficiently immunised and protected against severe forms of the disease and that the health system can avoid overloading its capacities”.

Authorities specified that in order to lift all the measures, including the Covid certificate requirement, the vaccination rate should be around 93 percent for people over 65, and 80 percent in the 18 to 65 age group.

“The current vaccination rate is insufficient as temperatures start to drop and the pandemic could accelerate again”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How long will Switzerland keep the Covid certificate in place?

How will health authorities attempt to persuade holdouts to roll up their sleeves?

The goal is to “educate as many people as possible about the benefits of immunisation, through clear communication, in multiple languages ​​and based on reliable data”, the Federal Council said.

For its part, the Federal Council will send a letter to the population to stress the importance of vaccination.

On a grass-roots level, the cantons and communes will hold information sessions or local events focusing on vaccination, and each canton will deploy additional mobile units, allowing local residents easy access to consultations and immediate on-site vaccinations.

Currently, the government has 50 such mobile units in circulation across Switzerland, but the number will be “significantly increased”.

Personal approach

Authorities will focus on individual rather than mass approach in convincing reluctant people to get the jab.

“These counseling activities will take place through group discussions, personal or telephone contacts, or the individual ‘chat’ function on social networks”.

To facilitate the process, the counselors will also respond to individual needs and requests, such as finding a vaccination centre, a local doctor, or a translator.

What will the government NOT do?

One of the options originally considered for the vaccination week was for the counselors to go door to door to convince people to get vaccinated.

However, this idea was dropped amid criticism over the violation of privacy and other similar concerns.

Berset’s suggestion to offer a 50-franc voucher to anyone who persuades another person to get inoculated, was also abandoned.

READ MORE: Swiss cantons reject 50-franc reward for Covid vaccination

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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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