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Covid-19: Why is Switzerland still stalling on booster shots?

Switzerland may start giving booster vaccines at the start of 2022, but no decision has been announced yet.
Elderly people in Switzerland were the first to be immunised against Covid. But booster shots are not administered yet. Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP
While a number of countries, including neighbours France and Germany, are administering booster shots to some of their residents, Switzerland has no immediate plans to do so. Why is it?

Swiss media reported on Sunday that Alice Schmidli-Amrein, the first person in Switzerland to receive the Covid vaccine in December 2020, died from coronavirus on October 11th.

“If my mother had received a vaccine booster, she would still be alive,” her son, Jack Schmidli said.

Three other vaccinated residents of the care home where Schmidli-Amrein lived have also succumbed to the disease since early September, and 11 others have tested positive.

In all, 52 people who have received their shots earlier in the year have died of Covid since the beginning of September, Tages-Anzeiger reports.

But despite this increase in the death rate among vaccinated people, the government is slow to approve the third dose.

“The question of whether and for whom a booster vaccination might be necessary has not been determined at this time”, said Nani Moras, spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

“In other countries, social pressure has meant that booster vaccinations have already started. So far, however, there is no scientific evidence that a booster is necessary “, according to Raphael Ben Nescher, who heads the special Covid staff in Bern.

The Swiss government said on October 19th that booster shots could be approved in the coming weeks, however few specific details were given

What are the rules for booster shots in Switzerland? 

At the moment, cantons are administering boosters only to a limited number of their residents, primarily those with particularly weak immune systems, but there is no widespread effort to provide booster shots. 

This is despite Switzerland having a plentiful supply of vaccines, at least in part due to the country’s lagging vaccine take up rate. 

Authorities have indicated that more people could get booster jabs early in 2022. 

Several other countries however have already started administering booster shots on a widespread basis. 

France, Germany, Austria, Israel and the United States are just some of the countries which have already rolled out an extended booster shot program

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

Why is Switzerland stalling with boosters?

Health authorities are taking their time to review and assess the scientific evidence about the need for the third shot.

Virginie Masserey, head of FOPH’s infection control section attributed this hesitancy to lack of credible proof in support of booster shots, as research studies “have not reached consensus” on this subject.

“We would have to know after how many months the immunity decreases. We don’t see any reduction in protection at this time”, Masserey said, adding that it is more important to inoculate unvaccinated people than to offer boosters.

According to Swissmedic, the authorisation and monitoring agency for therapeutic products, some data suggests that vaccine protection against severe forms of the disease lasts at least 12 months, even with the Delta variant.

Studies are currently underway to assess whether this protection applies to all groups of people and all ages, the agency noted.

However, some health experts in Switzerland are critical of the government’s “wait-and-see” attitude.

“Scientific evidence on the benefit of booster shots can no longer be ignored”, said Dominique de Quervain, former member of Covid-19 the Task Force.

And the infectious disease specialist Huldrych Günthard from the University Hospital Zurich said he doesn’t understand what the authorities are still waiting for.

As far as benefits of booster shots are concerned, “the data is clear, especially pertaining to older people who were vaccinated first”, he noted.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to get vaccinated in your Swiss canton


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