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COVID-19 VACCINES

Are healthcare workers eligible for Covid booster jabs in Switzerland?

Switzerland will roll out its Covid booster program from November 15th onwards. Will healthcare workers be among the first in line?

A nurse checks a chart
Healthcare workers will not get priority access to booster shots. Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

During the first wave of the pandemic, nurses and other frontline health workers were among the first to be vaccinated under Switzerland’s priority system. 

On October 26th, Switzerland announced that booster shots – i.e. a third dose of the vaccine – would be rolled out from November 15th onwards. 

However, when the priority groups for the vaccine boosters were announced, health workers were not included. 

As it stands, Swissmedic believes fully vaccinated healthcare workers are not at particular risk of contracting the virus, unless of course they can be said to be in one of the other high-risk categories. 

This is likely to cause some consternation among healthcare workers. 

Covid booster vaccinations in Switzerland: What you need to know

What is ‘high risk’?

There are three broad categories of high risk. 

The first, and most publicised, is those over the age of 65. This applies to everyone over the age of 65, regardless of underlying conditions. 

The second is people who have overcome previous illnesses which have a connection with the lungs, or others such as diabetes and cancer. 

The third is people with immunosuppressed conditions, who do not have enough protection from being fully vaccinated. People in this category have already been vaccinated in Switzerland for some time, with Swissmedic confirming that 7,700 have been administered in Switzerland as at October 26th. 

Is this likely to change? 

As at end October, Swiss authorities were developing a recommendation for healthcare workers, reports Swiss news outlet Watson, so this recommendation may change in future. 

The government however has so far said fully vaccinated health workers are not at a greater risk, so there is a chance this will remain the same. 

How do health workers feel? 

A spokesperson for health workers in Switzerland said healthcare workers should be near the front of the queue due to the greater risk associated with their work. 

Switzerland: Healthcare workers want priority for Covid booster shots

“Because health workers were vaccinated early in the year, they are among those whose immunity to coronavirus decreases first”, according to Roswitha Koch, head of the Swiss Association of Nurses.

As they are in regular contact with Covid patients and therefore at increased risk of infection, the association expects medical workers to have priority access to boosters, as soon as these shots become available.

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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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