‘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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What to know about getting medicine and prescriptions in Switzerland

It can be tricky navigating where you can stock up on medicines or get prescriptions in Switzerland. Here's what you should be aware of.

What to know about getting medicine and prescriptions in Switzerland

What can I get over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription?

Herbal remedies, supplements, and medicines such as lower-dose painkillers are all available without a prescription. You can buy some natural remedies and supplements in supermarkets and drug stores. 

Unlike countries such as the UK where certain non-prescription drugs are available in various shops such as supermarkets, in Switzerland they are only stocked in pharmacies known as Apotheken, Pharmacy, or Farmacia – depending on the linguistic region. That means you have to go to a Swiss pharmacy to get things like painkillers, cough mixture or similar products. 

Pharmacies can offer advice or a short consultation on treatment for non-serious ailments.

You have to pay the full price for OTC medicines, they are not covered by your health insurance. 

How do you get a prescription? 

If you need stronger drugs than those available over the counter, then you will need to visit a doctor (for example a GP or specialist). They can then fill a prescription slip out for you. This applies to items like antibiotics and high dosage painkillers, or drugs for more serious conditions like depression.

Where can I get my medicine? 

You can head to a pharmacy and give them the slip that your doctor filled out. They will then be able to give you – or order – your medicine.

It is best to register with a pharmacy in your town, rather than go from one to another each time you need to fill a prescription. Your pharmacy will keep all your prescriptions on file and keep track of all your meds and re-fills. 

Some GPs in Switzerland also have their own smaller pharmacies in their practice. This is particularly common in small towns and villages. You usually have to be registered with the doctor to use this kind of pharmacy. 

A selection of tablets.

A selection of tablets. Photo: Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay

Who pays for prescriptions?

In Switzerland, the cost of prescription medicines is generally shared between you and your health insurance provider. The insurance will typically pay 90 percent and you will pay the remainder, unless your doctor orders a brand drug where a generic alternative is available – in that case, you will have to pay 20 percent of the cost.

Your health insurance policy will require you to pay a set amount before your insurance covers the rest. So if you have a deductible of 300 francs, you’d generally pay that and the rest would be covered by your health insurance provider. However, that pertains not only to drugs, but also to all your other medical costs — in other words, the deductible you chose — which varies from 300 to 2,500 francs, depending on the amount you chose when you took out your policy.

READ ALSO: Which Swiss health insurance deductible makes most sense?

Generally, your health insurance provider will be billed directly by the pharmacy after you give your details. Your provider will then send a bill for you to pay your portion of the bill. However, some carriers require patients to pay and send the bill to the insurance for reimbursement.

Keep in mind, too, that after you use up your deductible, you will still be responsible for the co-insurance costs – the money you pay out of pocket towards health insurance costs – 10 percent in total.

However the co-insurance is capped at 700 francs a year, meaning that even if you have frequent, and costly, medical procedures, or take expensive meds, you will not be charged the 10-percent co-pay after you reach the 700-franc mark.

How much does medicine generally cost in Switzerland?

According to research, people in Switzerland pay significantly more than those in neighbouring European countries for medicines. 

Earlier this year, the umbrella association for Swiss health insurance providers, SantéSuisse, told Swiss news site 20 Minuten, that insurers and people in Switzerland now spend around 9 billion francs a year on prescriptions and other medication. 

The organisation said that around 25 percent of the cost of basic health insurance goes into funding the purchase of essential medicines.

SantéSuisse said the main drivers of increasing healthcare premiums are rising medicine prises and nursing services in care homes. 

“In Switzerland, we pay far too much for medicines compared to abroad,” said SantéSuisse spokesman Matthias Müller.

READ ALSO: What medicines you could struggle to find in Switzerland

He added that the cost of  patented drugs are an average of 9 percent more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, for other medication, people in Switzerland have to pay double, according to the research. 

The newspaper looked at a comparison of Swiss and German prices for medication. 

For Paracetamol, a 500 milligrams, 20 tablet box cost on average €2.24 in a German pharmacy, and 2.40 francs in a Swiss pharmacy – a surcharge of seven percent in Switzerland. 

In another example, Ibuprofen (400 milligrams, 20 tablets), cost €3.45 in Germany and 5.90 francs in Switzerland, a surcharge of 71 percent. 

A box of pantoprazole (a drug used to treat gastric reflux) is 12.95 francs in Switzerland compared to around 2.62 euros in Germany – a markup of 394 percent.

The association of pharmacists, PharmaSuisse, told 20 Minuten that it was not overcharging customers for items. It said that 60 percent of their medicines are sold at a near-loss after things like salaries and logistic costs are taken into the picture. 

Can foreign prescriptions be used in Switzerland?

Pharmacies will only accept prescriptions issued by doctors in Switzerland. So if you’re new to Switzerland, make sure to register with a local GP and talk to them if you need access to medicine that’s only available on prescription.

Can you import medicines to Switzerland?

According to Switzerland’s drug regulatory agency, Swissmedic, people “may import a month’s supply of medicines into Switzerland for their own use but not for third parties”.

This rule is for both residents and tourists. This means that you are only allowed to bring medications you will use yourself, (prescribed and not) and not sell them to others.

READ ALSO: Are there rules about bringing medicines to Switzerland?