Covid booster jabs unlikely to arrive in most Swiss cantons until 2022

Covid boosters for the general population will likely be delayed until 2022, with most cantons unprepared to administer shots.

A person receives a jab against Covid-19
Switzerland is under fire for its lagging booster shot campaign. Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Infrastructure problems and a lack of skilled workers mean that members of the general population waiting for booster shots will likely need to hold off until 2022. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland hold a referendum on compulsory Covid vaccination?

Booster shots were rolled out for people in risk groups from November 15th, including those over the age of 65 and people with chronic conditions. 

Despite indications last week that booster jabs for everyone aged 12 and over could be approved as early as the end of November, authorities in most cantons are not ready. 

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

Federal authorities are responsible for approving booster vaccines, but they are administered at a cantonal level. This could mean that the approval is delayed, so cantons will have time to get ready. 

Switzerland’s Tages Anzeiger reports authorities in several large cantons – including Zurich, Basel, Bern and Lucerne – have minimised or disassembled the infrastructure set up in the summer for the country’s widespread vaccination campaign. 

Authorities in Geneva told news outlet Watson they were unconcerned about the potential delay, given that boosters are only recommended more than six months since the previous shot – and that most people in the western Swiss canton were vaccinated in July 2021. 

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

Some smaller cantons like Thurgau and Apppenzell Ausserhoden on the other hand have said they are ready to go, but will hold off and wait for federal approval before starting the booster campaigns

Vaud also indicated they were ready to go whenever the approval comes through

The newspaper reports staff responsible for administering vaccines have been transferred to other departments, while temporary members of the workforce have been moved on. 

Demand for booster vaccinations in Switzerland has been growing, particularly as similar campaigns have been underway for some time in neighbouring countries. 

READ MORE: Can Swiss get a booster vaccination in Germany?

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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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?