New coronavirus: Vaccination

There is currently no vaccine against Covid-19. Intensive research on vaccines is therefore being conducted around the world. The federal government is holding talks with various vaccine manufacturers with a view to concluding agreements and ensuring Switzerland has access to a vaccine.

Swiss vaccine procurement

There is currently no authorised vaccine against the new coronavirus. Many research institutions around the world are working on the development of a vaccine against Covid-19. At present, it cannot be said exactly when a vaccine will be available.

The federal government is trying to conclude reservation agreements with various vaccine manufacturers whose vaccine projects are already at a well advanced stage and exhibiting promising results. Should such a vaccine successfully pass through the clinical phases and be authorised by Swissmedic, Switzerland will receive the number of reserved vaccine doses thanks to the agreement. It is assumed that most vaccines will require two vaccine doses in order to achieve an adequate level of immunisation protection.

The vaccine of the US firm Moderna, for which the federal government signed a reservation agreement on 7 August 2020, was in clinical phase III upon the agreement being signed. When more information with respect to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine is available, a decision can be taken on which population groups will be vaccinated first.

It remains unclear which vaccines will ultimately be authorised and made available to the Swiss population. In parallel to the conclusion of the agreement with Moderna, talks are therefore also being held with other vaccine producers in order to increase the chances of gaining access to a vaccine.

A vaccine must pass various development phases and be authorised by Swissmedic before it can be administered in Switzerland.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccination is a proven means of disease prevention. It reduces the vaccinated individual’s risk of infection and falling ill. Furthermore, vaccinated individuals do not pass on the pathogen, meaning that non-vaccinated members of the population are also protected indirectly.

Using a vaccine, the immune system is “acquainted” with the pathogen that gives rise to a disease without the disease and its severe complications actually being caused. This prepares the body’s own defence system should it be faced with an emergency situation. If a vaccinated person comes into contact with the pathogen at a later date, the immune system quickly recognises it and can render it harmless. This means that the vaccinated individual only develops weak symptoms of the disease or no symptoms at all.

Further information on this topic can be found on the page Vaccinations and prevention.

Objective of a vaccine against Covid-19

The new coronavirus is highly contagious. In many cases, infected individuals initially have no or only weak symptoms and do not notice the infection. During this phase, there are many infections and the virus can spread quickly. The aim of a vaccination is to prevent the further spread of the new coronavirus to the greatest possible extent.

A vaccine could contain the pandemic in a sustainable manner, making an important contribution to a return to normality in the process. In addition, vaccination also protects individuals deemed to be especially high risk.

Development of a vaccine

The development and production of vaccines is a complex and costly task. The requirements placed on quality, effectiveness and, in particular, safety are high. It is for this reason that the production of a vaccine has to pass through different development phases. A vaccine only moves to the next stage of further development once the existing phase produces good result.

Development phases

1. Pre-clinical phase: The vaccine is first tested under laboratory conditions. This is then followed by tests on animals during the pre-clinical phase.

2. Clinical phase

The clinical trial is divided into three phases:

Clinical phase I: Using a small number of healthy volunteers as a sample, it is tested for the first time how people respond to the vaccine and how well tolerated different doses are. The dosage refers to how often and in what quantity the vaccine is provided. During this phase, initial commonly occurring side-effects can also be identified.

Clinical phase II: In this phase, the vaccine is tested on several hundred volunteers. This shows whether the vaccine has the desired effect and which dosage is optimal. In addition, information is collected on the frequency and severity of potential side-effects.

Clinical phase III: The vaccine is now tested on several thousand volunteers. This phase shows whether the vaccine actually also offers protection against the disease. Rare side-effects and risks are also identified. Furthermore, it is tested for which age or population groups the vaccine can be used.

In a next step, all of the available results from clinical phases I to III are reviewed by Swissmedic. If Swissmedic is able to confirm the effectiveness, safety and quality of the vaccine, it awards market authorisation for Switzerland.

Once a vaccine has been authorised, a vaccine recommendation for the population is issued with the close involvement of the Federal Commission for Vaccination (FCV). A vaccine is only recommended if the benefits provided by preventing diseases and their complications outweigh the risks associated with the respective vaccine many times over.

3. Follow-up studies (phase IV)
Even after authorisation, vaccine manufacturers must continue to monitor the safety, effectiveness and quality of their vaccine. The manufacturers check on a continuous basis whether rare or serious side-effects occur and report these to Swissmedic. The tolerability of the vaccine within population groups that were not included in the previous studies is also clarified.  

The successful development of a vaccine up to market authorisation generally takes several years.

Swissmedic will select an appropriate authorisation procedure for a potential vaccine against the new coronavirus. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the procedure is to be accelerated accordingly without compromises being made with respect to the requirements. Safety is of the utmost priority here.

On the Infovac website (available in German, French and Italian), you can find an overview of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines currently being researched around the world as well as information on the current status of vaccine development. The list is updated on an ongoing basis.

Additional information

 

  • On the Infovac website (available in German, French and Italian), you can find information on the different vaccine types.
  • In the Swissmedic article “Prevention rather than cure” (in German), you can find information on the authorisation of vaccines in Switzerland.
  • On the Swissmedic website, you can find a document in which the recommendations for the treatment of patients in clinical trials during the development of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine are described.
  • On the FCV website (available in German, French and Italian), you can find the catalogue of questions (analysis framework) according to which it is decided whether a vaccine should be recommended.

Further information

Disease, symptoms, treatment

Symptoms of disease, range of illness severity, treatment, COVID-19, new coronavirus

Last modification 27.08.2020

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