The Moderna vaccine produced in Visp has received limited approval. This will give Switzerland the urgently needed supplies.
The Swiss medicines authority Swissmedic temporarily approved the mRNA vaccine from the US manufacturer Moderna on Tuesday afternoon. Together with the Biontech vaccine, which has been used since Christmas, Switzerland can now count on two different manufacturers and is no longer dependent on one supplier. The cans are also produced in Switzerland – pharmaceutical supplier Lonza has set up three production lines in Visp for this purpose.
For the time being, approval is only granted for a limited period because individual data are still missing. It is still unclear how long the protective effect will be, said Philippe Girard, Deputy Director of Swissmedic, in front of the media in Bern on Tuesday. The data available showed that the effects lasted for three months. The vaccination will probably last much longer. Moderna itself announced on Tuesday morning that the protective effect should last for at least a year.
In addition, Swissmedic still lacked data on pregnancy, added Girard. The companies are in the process of carrying out these studies. As soon as the data is there, an unlimited approval can be discussed. At the moment, the benefit / risk ratio is positive, which is why the vaccine could be approved for a limited time, said Girard.
First delivery on the way
A first delivery of 200,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna for Switzerland will arrive by Wednesday. Health Minister Alain Berset announced this on Tuesday on Twitter.
The vaccine goes to the army pharmacy, as the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) announced on Tuesday. The army pharmacy distributes the vaccine to the cantons. Further deliveries would follow at regular intervals. It is not yet known exactly when the next batch will come. BAG department head Nora Kronig promised at a media conference that a million vaccines will arrive in February.
So far, 234,000 cans have arrived from Biontech / Pfizer and with the next delivery of 126,750 on January 18, Switzerland will be able to inoculate 560,750 cans, as Kronig calculated. This enables four percent of the adult population to be vaccinated.
Switzerland has pre-ordered a total of 7.5 million vaccine doses from Moderna. All cans should be available by the end of June 2021, the manufacturer promises. This also applies to the 3 million cans from Biontech. “Everyone who wants to be vaccinated should be able to be vaccinated by the summer”, writes the FOPH (read also: Are these vaccines enough for Switzerland?)
The vaccination campaign is currently focusing on the elderly. 1.63 million people in Switzerland are over 65 years old; 3.26 million doses are required for them. Because, as with Biontech, Moderna’s remedy needs two vaccine doses to be effective. Based on the current data, Swissmedic recommends adhering to the Moderna vaccination interval of four weeks and not postponing the second dose. According to the clinical studies, vaccinated people are reliably protected 14 days after the second injection.
Next vaccine will follow soon
The total of 10.5 million mRNA vaccines should be able to immunize 5.25 million people in Switzerland in the first half of the year. Astra-Zeneca’s vector vaccine has not yet received approval, and a further 5.3 million doses have been ordered. In total, there would then be enough vaccine available for all adults in Switzerland – around 7.1 million people. The vaccine is already in use in Great Britain, the assessment by Swissmedic should take place in January.
For the time being, the Moderna supply brings the urgently needed relief for the Swiss vaccination campaign, which started slowly due to the low stocks of the Biontech vaccine. Lonza now produces up to 800,000 Moderna cans per day, but these are also intended for other countries. The EU has pre-ordered 160 million, the USA even 200 million – there are also other production sites that have been in operation for some time. (More on the subject: Where Switzerland is in the big vaccination race.)
Moderna vaccination at the family doctor
In contrast to Biontech approval, the EU was one step ahead of Switzerland with the Moderna funds and started distributing them on Monday – one of the biggest logistical tasks that Moderna had to deal with so far, the company said. The active ingredient is supplied by the Swiss logistics company Kuehne + Nagel. A fleet of around 200 special pharmaceutical transport vehicles is used to ensure that the required temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius is maintained.
Once the vaccine has arrived, it can be stored in the refrigerator for 30 days. This means that general practitioners’ practices can also administer the vaccine. However, this has to be planned carefully, because one bottle contains ten vaccine doses and must be used up within six hours. If all manufacturers deliver the promised quantities, up to 75,000 people in Switzerland will receive a vaccine every day – but the maximum capacity will probably only be reached in spring.
Since two syringes are required, 37,500 people could receive the first dose every day, and another 37,500 the second vaccination. When the over 65-year-olds are through, it will take around 20 more weeks to vaccinate all 20- to 64-year-olds – some of whom are already preferred as health workers or at risk.
Freedom of choice still open
Whether one can choose which vaccine to receive is still an open question. Christoph Berger, the President of the Federal Commission for Vaccination Issues, said before Christmas that the population had no choice: “There will be no request for a concert,” said Berger. The vaccine that is currently in stock should be vaccinated. If there is sufficient availability, an indirect choice is still conceivable. In Germany, for example, only one product from one manufacturer is offered per vaccination center. Those willing to vaccinate can thus choose where they want to be immunized and thus also have control over the vaccine.
This is now also conceivable in Switzerland: Those who prefer the Moderna vaccine could now try to get vaccinated in a family doctor’s practice, where the Biontech vaccine is not administered. However, the two mRNA vaccines are practically identical, so that a selection currently makes little sense anyway.
As soon as the vector vaccine from Astra-Zeneca is available, this question should arise again, as the population still has some reservations about the new mRNA vaccines despite years of test phases and strict approval criteria. A choice would mean more effort, but it could also mean that more people would be willing to be vaccinated. This could be crucial for achieving herd immunity.
Side effects are similar
The two vaccines from Moderna and Biontech so far mainly differentiate between the various requirements for cooling during transport and storage. In addition, the Moderna vaccine should be effective for at least one year, according to the company. Biontech has not yet given any precise details, but is also counting on this time span. Side effects, effectiveness and application are very similar.
The Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna may be administered to people aged 18 and over in accordance with the drug information and the official federal vaccination recommendations. The vaccination consists of two doses given intramuscularly by trained medical personnel one month apart.
Both vaccines are currently not allowed to be given to children because the necessary studies have not yet been completed. The tests focused on the more vulnerable adult population. In addition, both agents require two vaccination appointments and both have shown a high effectiveness of around 94 percent and few side effects in test series. Swissmedic writes about the Moderna remedy: “The most frequently documented side effects are comparable to those after a flu vaccination.” People with an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients should not be vaccinated.
More on the subject: As Claire-Anne Siegrist, the most renowned Swiss vaccination researcher, assesses vaccine-skeptical arguments.