Last updated on 19.10.2021

How does the vaccination work?

The vaccine enables the body to build immune defence specifically targeted at the virus. As soon as the body has been exposed to the virus, it has the immune defence to fight it and prevent infection. Vaccination therefore boosts and teaches our immune systems specifically how to fight COVID-19.

It is not advisable to develop immune defence from being infected and contracting the virus because it can also lead to severe disease and long COVID. The vaccination is therefore a safe way to gain better and longer-term protection against COVID-19 without being exposed to the risks of the disease.

Switzerland has so far concluded six agreements for procuring vaccines

Switzerland has signed various agreements with vaccine producers. If the vaccines are authorised by Swissmedic, Switzerland will receive the number of reserved vaccine doses stated in the respective agreement in 2021. The vaccine producers will then distribute them in stages over several months:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech: 6 million vaccine doses for 2021 and 7 million each for 2022 and 2023
  • Moderna: 13.5 million vaccine doses for 2021 and 7 million for 2022
  • AstraZeneca: 5.3 million vaccine doses (Switzerland is donating the majority of which to the COVAX Initiative)
  • Novavax: 6 million vaccine doses
  • Janssen: 150,000 doses for 2021

Switzerland thus has enough vaccine for the whole population for 2021 and for subsequent years.

The federal government continues to aim for a vaccine portfolio comprising different vaccine technologies (mRNA, protein-based, viral vector), for example to be able to offer people with intolerances an alternative means of protection. The procurement of vaccines from different manufacturers is intended to ensure that sufficient quantities of authorised vaccines are available, even if there are supply difficulties.

All vaccines are thoroughly checked by Swissmedic

In Switzerland, the therapeutic products agency Swissmedic is responsible for authorisation: it decides whether a vaccine should be authorised for the Swiss public. If Swissmedic is able to confirm the efficacy, safety and quality of a vaccine, it grants the marketing authorisation for Switzerland.

In an exceptional situation such as a pandemic, a vaccine still has to pass the usual checks despite the need for urgency. However, the review process can be greatly accelerated: Swissmedic uses the “rolling authorisation” procedure during the pandemic. “Rolling” refers to the fact that the data from the vaccine producers are submitted on an ongoing basis and then reviewed immediately by Swissmedic. But this doesn’t involve any compromises when it comes to safety, as the review criteria remain the same.

This video shows what is needed for a vaccine to be authorised in Switzerland:

How is the safety of vaccines monitored?

After a vaccine has been licensed, vaccinations can be carried out. To ensure the safety of the vaccine, the process is closely checked and monitored.
This video shows just how the vaccine is monitored:

mRNA vaccines

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (“Comirnaty”)

The German company BioNTech is developing and producing the COVID-19 vaccine together with the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Pfizer/BioNTech is delivering 6 million doses of vaccine to Switzerland in stages; the first vaccinations began in December 2020. Results of clinical trials have shown that this vaccine reduces the risk of contracting coronavirus by 95% in vaccinated individuals. Around 43,000 people took part in the trial.

Moderna vaccine (“Spikevax”)

Switzerland has secured 13.5 million doses of vaccine from the US manufacturer Moderna for 2021 and at least 7 million for 2022. In authorisation trials the vaccine achieved 94% efficacy with the vaccinated trial subjects. Around 30,000 subjects took part in the trial. The vaccine, which is manufactured in Switzerland, has been in use since January.

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna rely on an innovative technology, though it is one that has been researched for over 10 years. mRNA is a type of messenger molecule that carries the blueprint for protein synthesis. mRNA provides the body’s cells with the information it needs to produce a virus protein. As soon as the protein is produced in the body, the immune system identifies it as a foreign object and therefore produces antibodies against the virus. The immune response prepares the body to fight the virus. This film explains how the mRNA vaccine works:

Viral vector vaccines

Janssen vaccine

The federal government has signed an agreement with the company Janssen, which is part of the healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson, for the delivery of 150,000 vaccine doses in 2021. This is the third vaccine that is being used in Switzerland. In the vaccination recommendations, those aged 12 or over are still primarily advised to get an mRNA vaccine as they afford a very high level of protection and are very safe. However, the Janssen vaccine is recommended by the FCV and the FOPH to anyone over 18 who cannot be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons, or who opposes mRNA vaccines. The recommendation does not apply to pregnant women or people with a weakened immune system, who are still advised to get vaccinated with one of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. The Janssen vaccine is only administered once (single dose) and provides very good protection against hospitalisation and severe disease.

AstraZeneca vaccine (“Vaxzevria”)

The federal government has concluded an agreement with the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the Swedish government for the delivery of up to 5.3 million vaccine doses. Swissmedic authorisation for AstraZeneca is still pending.

As Switzerland already has sufficient mRNA vaccines in use, it is donating the majority of the 5.3 million doses to the COVAX Initiative, which works to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines across the globe to low- and middle- income countries.

The vaccines from AstraZeneca and Janssen are viral vector vaccines (an adenovirus), which replicate parts of the envelope of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on a harmless virus. They thus prepare the immune system to defend itself from the coronavirus.