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Switzerland awaits regulator’s verdict on Covid booster shots

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset and Lukas Engelberger, health official. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Swiss authorities are waiting for the country’s medical regulator to give its opinion on Covid booster shots before nailing down the next steps in their vaccination strategy.

This content was published on October 21, 2021 - 15:54
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On Thursday, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said the government and cantons are awaiting Swissmedic’s recommendation of a third dose of the vaccine before proceeding.

"We have regular exchanges with the Federal Vaccination Commission and the cantons. We are waiting for the decision of Swissmedic," Berset said.

That could be a matter of days or weeks, according to Swissmedic. Berset also told journalists in Bern that it remains to be determined to whom and when a booster vaccination will be offered.

+ Swiss expect approval of Covid-19 booster by end of October

But people over the age of 80 could be the first to get it, he said. A certain decrease in the effectiveness of the vaccine has been observed after a few months in people over 80, and the cantons should therefore prepare for booster shots for this group.

Little evidence

Currently, "there is still little evidence on the benefit of a booster for everyone," said Patrick Mathys, head of the crisis management and international coordination section of the Federal Office of Public Health.

No vaccine is 100% effective but Berset stressed that the ones available in Switzerland are safe, effective, and of very high quality.

Lukas Engelberger, president of the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors, added that the vaccine works and that this is “scientifically” proven.

He urged the public not to politicize the jab – stressing that the pandemic, rather than vaccines, is dividing society. The vaccine is the best way to avoid this split in the view of Swiss health officials.

Risks remain

"We are not yet out of the risk zone" despite a more relaxed situation than in August, Engelberger continued. The numbers of coronavirus cases and people hospitalized after an infection have been falling for several weeks. However, the situation is only slowly easing in hospitals.

The many infections in recent weeks are still being felt. The majority of hospitalized people are not vaccinated. They represent a risk for the whole of society and the economy, Engelberger emphasised.

Push to increase vaccination

Switzerland’s senior health officials said it was essential to keep going with vaccination to avoid an uptick of cases in winter.

"We have seen a direct and strong correlation between the vaccination rate and the incidence in the same region. We want to avoid local epidemic outbreaks with the arrival of winter," Berset said.

The government has launched an information campaign and a vaccination week will be held in November under the slogan of "Together out of the pandemic".

“We have to reach people," Berset insisted, adding it was up to cantons to decide where to focus their vaccination campaign efforts.

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