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Swiss authorise Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

BASELL: Switzerland has approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with immunisation set to start just after Christmas as the country battles rising coronavirus cases.

The Swissmedic regulatory authority said it had given the green light following a two-month review. Switzerland has been recording 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 a meticulous review of the available information, Swissmedic concluded that the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech is safe and that its benefit outweighs the risks,” Swissmedic said.

Health Minister Alain Berset said they can start vaccinating in the coming days  and those who are particularly vulnerable will have priority, referring to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. This amounts to some two million people in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.

“The level of protection afforded seven days after the second injection is over 90 percent in adults,” Swissmedic said of the data it reviewed. The regulator said the most frequently-documented side effects were “comparable with those after a flu vaccination”.

The Swiss army will receive, store and distribute the vaccine doses, which must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius. The army said it had verbal assurances from Pfizer-BioNTech that it will deliver nearly 107,000 doses in the coming days, then 250,000 per month from January.

Basel city said it was ready to start vaccinations on December 28. Health minister Berset said the vaccine was not mandatory but was strongly recommended and free of charge.

The announcement came a day after the Swiss government said bars and restaurants would once again be closed across the country from Tuesday for at least a month.

Achieving sufficient immunity will take up to a year, and six months even “in the best case”, said Virginie Masserey, the Swiss health ministry’s vaccine strategy chief. “It depends on how quickly people want to get vaccinated,” she told a press conference.

Switzerland has secured around 15.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, in deals with three manufacturers. It has signed contracts for around three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, around 7.5 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, and around 5.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.