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?
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.
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.
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