Switzerland approves Covid-19 boosters for everyone over 16

Switzerland’s drug regulatory body authorised the Pfizer vaccine to be given in a third dose for all residents from the age of 16, and to high-risk teens from 12.

The timeline for booster shots is not set in Switzerland
People from the age of 16 are eligible for booster shots in Switzerland, but when will they get them? Photo byJACK GUEZ / AFP

“Swissmedic reached this decision based, among other factors, on a study with 10,000 participants aged 16–87”, the agency announced on Tuesday.

“The interim results of this study gave no indication of new risk aspects for the vaccine”, Swissmedic said, adding that “in both cases, the second dose must have been administered at least six months previously”.

However, it is not clear at the moment when this age group, as well those under 65, will be given the boosters.

So far, only people older than 65 and those at risk from Covid complications, are allowed to receive booster shots in Switzerland.

The country is lagging behind its neighbours in administering third shots of Covid vaccine to people under 65, and the booster rollout for general public is not expected until next year.

They are not as widely available in Switzerland because many cantons have dismantled their vaccination centres and will not be able to ramp up their capacities again before the New Year.

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

A number of Swiss health experts are urging the government to speed up the booster rollout to prevent the worsening of the epidemiological situation.

Huldrych Günthard, an infectious disease specialist at Zurich University Hospital warned the third-dose campaign must be given “by all means and as quickly as possible, even if it means calling on the army or civil protection. Otherwise, we will soon find ourselves in the situation Austria already finds itself in”.

Unavailability of booster shots is driving (literally and figuratively) many Swiss residents go to nearby countries to get the shot.

“The fact that they have to go abroad to do this is due to the slowness of Swiss politics and authorities. Now it is crucial that the cantons increase their vaccination capacities to the maximum”, Dominique de Quervain, member of the Covid-19 Task Force told the media.

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

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EXPLAINED: Why are Covid infections soaring in Switzerland despite vaccination?

The number of coronavirus infections in Switzerland has increased exponentially in recent weeks, showing no sign of slowing down. Does this mean that vaccines are ineffective against the virus?

Not enough people in Switzerland are vaccinated to prevent new outbreaks, experts say. Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplah
Not enough people in Switzerland are vaccinated to prevent new outbreaks, experts say. Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplah

With the number of new daily infections exceeding 8,000 in the past days — and even topping 10,000 at the beginning of December — the current epidemiological situation in Switzerland is mirroring trends from 2020, before vaccines have entered the picture.

Health experts are qualifying Switzerland’s epidemiological situation as “critical”, especially as ICUs in some Swiss hospitals are reaching their full capacities and there is even talk of impending need for triage.

Does this mean that mRNA-type vaccines used in Switzerland — Moderna and Pfizer — are not effective against coronavirus and its variants, including Delta?

Officials say it is because the vaccination coverage is insufficient.

The most recent data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), indicates that 66.11 percent of all adults in Switzerland have been fully vaccinated up to December 7th.

When counting in people from the age of 12, the total goes up to 75.23 percent.

This means that about 25 percent of Switzerland’s population 12 years and up remains unvaccinated — a total of over 2 million people.

Health experts have repeatedly said that the virus spreads predominantly among those who have not been inoculated against Covid, and numbers confirm this trend.

READ MORE: Covid-19 in Switzerland: Why number of deaths among the vaccinated is misinterpreted

At the end of November, Switzerland’s Covid-19 Task Force has released a range of statistical findings about the transmission of the virus, including the fact that those who have not been vaccinated are three times more likely to infect others.

On the other hand, people  who have been vaccinated are three times less contagious than those who have not had the jab. 

These findings dispel one of the more pervasive myths about the virus which has been circulating since the start of the vaccination campaign — that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are just as likely to transmit the virus and infect others. 

The false claim has often been used by Covid sceptics as a reason why vaccines are ineffective. 

READ MORE: Unvaccinated ‘three times more contagious’ than vaccinated in Switzerland

What about cases of infection found among the fully vaccinated people in Switzerland?

A good way to get a clear picture of whether vaccines protect against the virus is to look at Covid-related hospitalisations and deaths.

FOPH statistics show that 264 Covid patients have been admitted to ICUs until December 6th — up from 154 on November 22nd and 217 on November 28th.

The majority of patients treated in ICUs in Switzerland are unvaccinated, as this FOPH chart shows.

Also, if we compare the number of coronavirus patients currently in Swiss ICUs to the situation in December 2020, we see that at this time last year, 453 Covid patients were treated in intensive care units — nearly double.

“If hospitals have not yet collapsed, it is thanks to vaccination”, said Urs Karrer, the task force’s vice-president.

However, vaccines are not infallible

Health authorities have stated from the beginning that vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer offer a 94 percent protection against Covid in general, and slightly less against the Delta strain. This is still a high level of immunity, but it does imply that a certain number of people can still get infected.

If a vaccinated person does get infected they will most likely not end up in an ICU, according to Julien Riou, epidemiologist at the University of Bern.

“Vaccines are also very effective at preventing 90 to 95 percent of severe cases and deaths. So the people who are most at risk now are the vulnerable and the non-vaccinated”, he said

READ MORE: How many vaccinated and unvaccinated people have died from Covid in Switzerland?