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UPDATED: When will Switzerland approve Novavax?

Novavax is the first 'inactivated vaccine' for Covid to be approved in the EU. When will it be approved - and administered - in Switzerland?

Novavax vaccine vials. When will the vaccine be approved in Switzerland? Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Novavax vaccine vials. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Editor’s note: Switzerland has since approved Novavax. Click here for more information. 

Nuvaxovid, the Covid-19 vaccine from Novavax, was approved by the European Union in December. 

Authorities hope the approval will encourage some vaccination holdouts to get the jab, due to the fact it is made with more familiar technology than the vaccines which are currently on the market. 

Novavax applied for approval in mid-February, 2022, but when will the jab be available in Switzerland?

What is an inactivated vaccine? 

The Novavax vaccine is the first ‘inactivated vaccine’ to be given EU approval. 

Inactivated vaccines are the best known examples of vaccines and have been administered for centuries. 

Inactivated vaccines use dead particles of a disease or pathogen. When administered, the recipient will generate antibodies to the disease but will not contract it, due to the fact the particles are dead. 

Inactivated vaccines are known in German under the scary Totimpfstoff (dead vaccine) moniker, or as virus inactivé in French. 

Why is this important? 

The three vaccines currently administered in Switzerland – Moderna, Pfizer/Biontech and Johnson and Johnson – all use different technology. 

Both Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech use mRNA technology, while Johnson and Johnson – along with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which has not been approved in Switzerland but has been administered across Europe – use vector technology. 

While both of these technologies have been shown to be safe, authorities believe some vaccine holdouts have indicated a reluctance to embrace newer technologies and would prefer to receive a Covid vaccine using technology which has been proven safe for centuries. 

A survey in neighbouring Germany showed that 56 percent of unvaccinated people would be more willing to vaccinate with an inactivated vaccine, should one become available. 

The Novavax jab can also be stored at usual refrigerator temperatures, meaning that it is more portable for rural areas and for poorer countries. 

Is the vaccine effective? 

Studies show the vaccine had an effectiveness rate of 90 percent against symptomatic infections and produced only mild side effects. 

Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology noted however that as with all vaccine types, there are some doubts as to its effectiveness against the Omicron variant. 

Another vaccine using similar technology, CoronaVac, was shown to have lower effectiveness against Omicron in trials in Hong Kong. 

Novavax have said they would alter the vaccine to have a greater effectiveness against Omicron from January. 

As with the other Covid vaccines besides Johnson and Johnson, two doses of Novavax are necessary to achieve full protection. 

When will it be available in Switzerland? 

Currently, Novavax is not yet approved by Switzerland’s medicines agency, Swissmedic, although it has been approved in the EU since December. 

Generally speaking, Swiss approval has taken place after EU approval, other than the AstraZeneca vaccine which was never approved in Switzerland. 

Swissmedic confirmed on February 14th, 2022, that Novavax had applied for authorisation in Switzerland. 

“This is the first protein-based vaccine for which an authorisation application has been submitted in Switzerland”, Swissmedic said.

Swiss authorisation should then be granted “promptly”, according to the Federal Office of Public Health.

Reports from mid-March in the Swiss media indicated Novavax would be approved by early April. 

The Swiss government has pre-ordered one million doses, with an option for five million more. The vaccines are expected to be delivered at the beginning of 2022.

Swiss tabloid Blick reported in December that the Swiss government was planning to start administering Novavax in February, however this deadline has been delayed. 

Switzerland in October started administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for people who were reluctant to get an mRNA shot. 

Therefore, if the vaccine clears the independent approval process, the Swiss government is likely to see the benefit of approving a vaccine using more traditional technology to boost the lagging vaccination rate. 

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Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Swiss government will not make second Covid boosters available until autumn, saying those who are currently fully vaccinated face a low risk of contracting the virus.

Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) announced on Tuesday that second Covid booster shots for general population will be available in the fall, “when the risk for individuals and the burden on the healthcare system will be greatest”.

While Switzerland had a widespread booster shot campaign against Covid, the government has been reluctant to approve second boosters other than for those in vulnerable categories. 

Right now, those with a weakened immune system and people over the age of 80 are the only ones eligible. 

People not in those risk groups who want a second booster will need to pay out of pocket for the jab. 

This may be people who feel they are in a risk group but are not included in the government’s list, or those who need a booster for travelling abroad. 

People who are travelling to countries where proof of up-to-date immunisation is required but whose Covid certificates are no longer valid, can receive the fourth dose but upon request have to pay for the shot.

Previously, all Covid boosters have been free for Swiss citizens and residents, with the government electing to cover the costs. 

How much will a Covid booster for travel cost? 

While the federal government previously covered the costs of the vaccines, it is now up to individual vaccination centres to set a price for a second booster. 

A spokesperson from the FOPH told The Local on Wednesday that the cost tends to be around CHF60 across much of the country. 

Please keep in mind that this cost only relates to second booster shots for those not in vulnerable categories. For those wanting their first booster – or indeed their first or second shot of the vaccine – the government will continue to cover the costs.