Switzerland set to approve booster shots for all amid surge in infections

Swiss media reports that Switzerland will approve booster shots for the entire population on Wednesday, November 17th.

A nurse waits to administer a booster jab in Switzerland.
Booster jabs look set to be approved in Switzerland on Wednesday. Photo: VALENTIN FLAURAUD / AFP

Swiss tabloid Blick reported on Sunday that booster vaccinations against Covid will be approved at a government meeting on November 17th. 

While boosters look set to be approved on Wednesday, there is as yet no indication as to when the first booster shots will be administered. 

According to the plan, everyone over the age of 12 will be eligible for a booster, provided they’ve had their second dose of the vaccine more than six months ago. 

UPDATED: How can I get my Covid booster shot in Switzerland?

Swiss vaccine boss Christoph Berger made the recommendation to approve boosters amid skyrocketing Covid infections in Switzerland. 

On Friday, Switzerland recorded more than 4,000 cases for the first time since January. 

Despite an increase in cases, 24.2 percent of hospital capacity remains. 

Blick reports that the information about the pending approval was leaked on Saturday evening. Berger said on Friday that the focus was on people in high risk groups, “when we have that under control, the others (boosters) will come”. 

Booster vaccinations for people in risk groups started on November 15th across the country. 

Several other countries have opened up booster shots to the general population, including Austria, Norway, Germany, France, Italy and England. 

Information from Israel shows booster vaccinations provide significant protection against the virus. 

Thomas Steffen, who sits on the board of the Association of Cantonal Doctors, told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes that boosters “undoubtedly help to reduce the burden of illness and thus also the burden on hospitals.”

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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?