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Should you get a booster jab in Switzerland or wait for Omicron vaccine?

A close up of the Covid vaccine with the word Omicron in the background
Do existing vaccines protect against the Omicron variant in Switzerland? Photo: Justin TALLIS / AFP
This is the question many people in Switzerland are asking amid conflicting information about the new variant.

The booster vaccine rollout has not exactly been smooth in Switzerland, which is behind many other countries in terms of who is eligible for the third shot.

While from November 15th the shots have been available only to those over 65 and vulnerable people, Swiss authorities expanded the recommendation to offer boosters to everyone over 16 on November 23rd — several weeks after neighbour countries had already done so.

READ MORE: Switzerland approves Covid-19 boosters for everyone over 16

However, the rollout remains sluggish because many cantons have dismantled their vaccination centres and will not be able to ramp up their capacities again before the New Year.

So far, only a handful of cantons — Neuchàtel, Bern, Graubünden, and Vaud among them — are already offering, or are planning to offer soon, boosters to a wider portion of their population.

“Unfortunately, in our country, we are at least two months behind on the booster vaccination and one in three Swiss is not vaccinated”, Didier Pittet, head of the infection prevention service at Geneva’s university hospitals (HUG) said in an interview with Watson news platform.

Because of a slow general rollout, there are concerns that the quickly deteriorating epidemiological situation will become even worse.

READ MORE: Will Switzerland’s sluggish booster shot rollout worsen the pandemic?

Now another potential glitch is adding complications to the booster campaign: the recent emergence of the Omicron variant in Switzerland.

With pharma companies saying they are working on a new vaccine that targets this variant, many people are wondering whether they should wait for it, or go ahead and get the third jab of the existing vaccines.

“Laboratories have been preparing for a year and a half for the possibility of a new variant for which the current vaccine should be adapted so as to better target the elements of the virus”, Pittet said.

“Tactically, it is a good idea for pharmaceutical companies to develop a suitable version of their vaccine. There is a risk that the new formula will not be useful if Omicron goes off the map in three months. But it is normal that the companies which made heaps of money during the pandemic reinvest part of their profits in this area”.

He added that “The leaders will seize every opportunity to raise their shares on the stock market. It is obvious that saying ‘we are working on a new dose adapted to Omicron’ is positive for their image.

Omicron in Switzerland: Vaccinated people also have to quarantine

Asked whether it is better to wait for the new-generation vaccines before getting a third dose, Pittet replied “The answer is clear: no”.

“One can imagine that the vaccines currently available are less effective against Omicron, but, for now, we have no evidence that this is the case”, Pittet noted.

He pointed out that the most pressing current problem in hospitals and among the general public is not Omicron — which so far has claimed only a few infections in Switzerland — but the more prevalent Delta.

“The real emergency is there. People must take the third dose to protect themselves from it”.

If we get a third dose now, will we have to get a fourth one against Omicron afterwards?

“To this day, no one can tell you. We can tell you in two weeks, or maybe in three months, until we have proof that people who have been vaccinated do or do not have serious infections with this variant. So far, Omicron is described as causing only minor infections in South Africa”, Pittet said.


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