Last updated on 06.09.2022

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. 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 severe COVID-19 without being exposed to the risks of the disease.


Switzerland has concluded agreements for procuring vaccines

Agreements with vaccine producers

The federal government has signed agreements with five vaccine manufacturers. Once a vaccine is approved by Swissmedic, Switzerland receives the number of doses reserved under the terms of the agreement. The vaccine manufacturers deliver the reserved doses to Switzerland in stages over several months.

  • Pfizer/BioNTech: 6 million doses of vaccine in 2021 / 7 million doses in 2022 / 7 million doses in 2023
  • Moderna: 13.5 million doses of vaccine in 2021 / 7 million doses in 2022
  • Janssen: 150,000 vaccine doses in October 2021
  • Novavax: 6 million doses of vaccine

Switzerland thus has enough vaccine for the whole population.

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”)

  • Name of vaccine: Comirnaty®
  • Approved: 19 December 2020
  • Origin of manufacturer: United States and Germany
  • Dosage: two doses
  • Efficacy: 95% protection against severe disease1
  • Approved for age: 5 and over
  • Vaccine doses reserved: 6 million doses for 2021; 7 million for 2022; 7 million for 2023

Moderna vaccine (“Spikevax”)

  • Name of vaccine: Spikevax®
  • Approved: 12 January 2021
  • Origin of manufacturer: United States
  • Dosage: two doses
  • Efficacy: 95% protection against severe disease1
  • Approved for age: 6 and over
  • Vaccine doses reserved: 13.5 million doses for 2021; 7 million for 2022

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

  • Name of vaccine: COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen®
  • Approved: 22 March 2021
  • Origin of manufacturer: Germany
  • Dosage: single dose
  • Efficacy: 85% protection against severe disease1
  • Approved for age: 18 and over
  • Vaccine doses reserved: 150,000 doses in October 2021

This is the third vaccine that is being used in Switzerland. In the vaccination recommendations, people 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”)

  • Vaccine name: Vaxzevria®
  • Approval: Application for approval in Switzerland withdrawn
  • Origin of manufacturer: UK
  • Dosage: not known
  • Efficacy: trials under way
  • Approved for age: not known

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.

Protein Vaccines

Novavax vaccine (Nuvaxovid® / NVX-CoV2373)

  • Vaccine name: Nuvaxovid®
  • Approval: 13 April 2022
  • Origin of manufacturer: United States
  • Dosage: two doses
  • Efficacy: around 90% protection against severe disease1
  • Approved for age: 18 and over
  • Vaccine doses reserved: 6 million doses

In authorisation trials it demonstrated similar efficacy to the mRNA vaccines, providing around 90% protection from COVID-19 disease in all age groups. It is not yet possible to say how long this protection lasts or how well the vaccine protects against the Delta and Omicron variants. The vaccine is administered in two doses at an interval of around four weeks.

The Novavax vaccine is suitable for anyone aged 18 and over who for medical reasons is not able to be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine or who refuses mRNA vaccines. This excludes pregnant and breastfeeding women. The recommendation is still primarily vaccination with an mRNA vaccine. This also applies in particular to people with a weakened immune system. Comprehensive data is already available confirming the efficacy and safety of these vaccines.

Novavax has opted for an established technology, the protein vaccine. The safety and efficacy of many protein vaccines are very well researched and have been proven over many years of practical use. Protein vaccines are already used against diseases such as hepatitis, whooping cough, shingles and influenza.
Protein vaccines involve inoculation with selected, harmless proteins of a pathogen. In the case of Novavax, part of the coronavirus’s so-called spike protein is used. The vaccine also contains a so-called adjuvant to boost its efficacy and ensure the immune system is sufficiently stimulated. The immune system is given information on how to identify the pathogen. This immune response prepares the body to fight the virus.

In this video you’ll learn how a protein vaccine functions:

1 These data refer to clinical trials. Efficacy against new virus variants, such as Delta and Omicron, may vary.

Here you’ll find information material on the COVID-19 vaccination.