‘Unrealistic’: Is Switzerland’s vaccination scheme set for further delays?

The Swiss government promised everyone would be vaccinated by June - but several cantonal doctors are now saying the end of autumn is a more realistic date.

'Unrealistic': Is Switzerland’s vaccination scheme set for further delays?

When Switzerland announced its vaccination plan, one message was made clear: anyone who wanted to be vaccinated in Switzerland would get a jab before the end of June. 

This date is however now in serious doubt, with some cantonal experts indicating vaccinations are set to run well into autumn, reports Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper

READ MORE: How can I get vaccinated for Covid-19 in Switzerland? 

Their concerns appear to be borne out, with the Federal Office of Public Health’s Virginie Masserey on Tuesday appearing to offer a more cautious approach. 

After months of reaffirming that the end of June remained the expected date to have vaccinations carried out, Masserey told the media that the end of summer was a more realistic deadline. 

What is the current situation? 

Vaccinations started in December, but the country’s vaccination scheme has experienced delays due to delivery problems, primarily with the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, and competition due to demand in other countries

Switzerland’s decision not to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine also put additional pressure on other manufacturers to make up the shortfall. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland’s rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccine delay vaccinations? 

What are cantonal doctors saying?

The chief cantonal doctor, Rudolf Hauri, told Switzerland’s SRF media outlet that vaccinations for the general public were unlikely to be completed until the end of autumn. 

This was not only due to delivery delays, but problems with the existing vaccination framework. 

“Even if large quantities of vaccines arrive, they cannot simply be inoculated faster than the infrastructure allows,” Hauri said. 

Cantonal doctor Marina Jamnicki, from Graubünden, disagreed with Hauri’s assertion that infrastructure was the problem, arguing cantonal authorities have struggled to tailor and change their infrastructure to reflect fluctuations in deliveries. 

“The canton of Graubünden is constantly adjusting capacities to the delivery quantities.”

Jamnicki however agreed that she cannot see more than 60 or 70 percent of the population being vaccinated before the end of autumn. 

The NZZ reported on Wednesday that a major issue was guaranteeing the security of the vaccine, given that the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna varieties need to be kept below -60 degrees celsius. 

Which cantons are well-equipped – and which are not? 

As with almost everything in Switzerland, there are large differences between the cantons when it comes to vaccine infrastructure and approaches. 

Zurich, Jura and Appenzeller Inneroden have said their vaccination logistics is established and ready. 

All vaccinations can be carried out by the end of summer – provided enough are delivered. 

In Fribourg however, authorities believe they will not be able to stick to a summer deadline – even if supply increases dramatically in May. 

“If we can only work at full speed in May, it will be too late to vaccinate everyone who wants to by the end of June.”

UPDATED: Which Swiss cantons are vaccinating fastest against coronavirus?

Officials in Thurgau said the major problem was the government’s promises about vaccinations which created high expectations. 

“Expectations have been created that cannot be fulfilled with the current quantities of vaccines. This provokes a lot of strife in the population,” said Thurgau health director Urs Martin told the NZZ. 

Martin said the canton had been receiving thousands of calls each week about the vaccination scheme – 95 percent of which have been critical. 

What role are the mutations playing?

Bern cantonal doctor Linda Nartey said the spread of the mutations is playing a role in the delays. 

“Now the Brazilian and South African variants are causing us more worries and more work,” Nartey said. 

More than 6,000 infections of a mutated form of coronavirus have now been detected in Switzerland.

According to official government figures, 2,381 of those mutations are of the British variant, along with 96 of the South African variant.

Three cases of the Brazilian variant have been detected in Switzerland. A further 3,526 are of an “unknown origin” according to the Swiss government.

READ MORE: Which cantons are Switzerland’s coronavirus mutation hotspots? 

Member comments

  1. Thank you for the helpful update. Please keep them coming!

    Wish they would allow access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, millions of doses have been given in the UK and expect there would be plenty of volunteers in Switzerland that would take the risk (myself included!).

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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad