Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and vaccination commission (EKIF) on Tuesday shortened the recommended waiting time for a booster vaccination from six to four months.
The reason for the shortening of the recommended period is evidence that the protection offered by existing vaccination against Omicron variant is limited.
Omicron, which on Tuesday became the dominant strain in the United States, is also growing in prevalence in Switzerland.
The FOPH and EKIF said that evidence suggests booster vaccinations provide significant protection against the variant, particularly for older people and people in risk categories.
People who have received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine more than four months ago are also recommended to have a booster dose with an mRNA vaccine under the new recommendations.
The federal government confirmed on Tuesday that there is enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot.
Boosters ‘greatly improve protection’
The Federal Office of Public Health said early data on the new and heavily mutated Omicron variant indicated that it was better than previous coronavirus strains at dodging vaccine protections, but that a booster shot could “greatly improve protection”.
As a result, it said, “a booster vaccination with an mRNA vaccine is now recommended for everyone aged 16 years and older as early as four months … after initial immunisation, especially for older people.”
Until now, the country’s health authorities had recommended boosters six months after people vaccinated with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, which use mRNA technology, received their second shot.
And “given expectations that the Omicron variant will spread rapidly, a booster vaccination is also recommended for seriously immune deficient people after three doses of mRNA vaccine for initial immunisation,” it said.
Swiss health authorities also recommended that people who had received the one-dose Johnson&Johnson vaccine receive a booster dose of a mRNA jab after four months.
They said that even after shortening the interval before administering boosters, Switzerland had enough vaccine doses to provide jabs for everyone who wants them.
Switzerland introduced a string of new restrictions this week in the face of surging infection numbers, including requiring people to work from home and barring the unvaccinated from restaurants, museums and other venues.
The wealthy, Alpine nation of around 8.6 million people has to date registered more than 11,600 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 67 percent of the population is fully vaccinated — a relatively low number compared to other countries in western Europe.
How will this work in practice?
Ultimately, the cantons are responsible for carrying out vaccinations, including booster vaccinations, and will set the relevant time frame.
Over the weekend, Zurich indicated it would slightly shorten its recommended period for vaccinations from six months to five and a half months, although the canton indicated that further shortenings may take place if the FOPH recommended this.
All Swiss cantons are currently carrying out booster vaccinations, although some readers have indicated they are still waiting for a jab.