Switzerland on Saturday approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with immunizations set to begin just after Christmas as the country battles rising coronavirus cases.
Swissmedic’s regulatory authority said it had given the green light after a two-month review.
Switzerland has recorded more than 4,000 new cases and 100 deaths every day. There have been a total of 400,000 infections and nearly 6,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
“After careful review of the information available, Swissmedic concluded that the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech is safe and the benefits outweigh the risks,” Swissmedic said.
Health Minister Alain Berset added: “We can start vaccinating in the coming days.
“Those who are especially vulnerable will get priority,” he said, referring to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
This number amounts to about two million people in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
Manufactured by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, the vaccine is based on a new technology that uses genetic material in the form of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA).
“The level of protection provided seven days after the second injection is more than 90 percent in adults,” Swissmedic said of the data reviewed.
Regulators say the most documented side effects are “comparable to side effects after flu vaccination”.
The Swiss Army will receive, store and distribute the vaccine dose, which must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).
The army said they had oral assurances from Pfizer-BioNTech that they would deliver nearly 107,000 doses in the coming days, then 250,000 per month starting January.
The city of Basel said it was ready to start vaccinations on December 28.
Health Minister Berset said the vaccine was not mandatory but “highly recommended” – and it’s free.
The announcement comes a day after the Swiss government said bars and restaurants will once again close across the country from Tuesday for at least a month.
“The number of infections is very high and continues to rise. Hospitals and health workers are under extreme pressure for weeks and periods of celebration to increase the risk of a more rapid increase in cases,” he said.
Gaining sufficient immunity will take up to a year, and even six months “in the best cases,” said Virginie Masserey, head of the Swiss health ministry’s vaccine strategy.
“It depends on how quickly people want to get vaccinated,” he told a news conference.
Switzerland has secured about 15.8 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, in agreements with three manufacturers.
The company has signed contracts for around three million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, around 7.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine, and around 5.3 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
Two doses are required per person for all three vaccines.