GENEVA – A 90-year-old woman living in a nursing home received the first Covid-19 inoculation in Switzerland on Wednesday when the alpine nation began its Covid-19 vaccination program.
A few countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have started vaccinations, but the vaccinations issued on Wednesday in the central Swiss canton of Lucerne were the first on the European mainland.
Swiss regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last weekend, and the first 107,000 doses from an order of three million arrived on Tuesday. The Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are still under review, but the authorities in Switzerland, a nation of eight million people, have already ordered 12.8 million doses. The vaccines require two shots at weekly intervals.
Vaccinations, which are voluntary and free of charge, were scheduled to start on Wednesday in six of the 26 cantons, with the rollout spreading to the rest of the country over the next few weeks.
The vaccination program prioritizes four groups of people: all older than 75 or with a chronic illness; healthcare professionals and carers, people in close contact with those at high risk of the disease and people living or working in shared facilities identified with increased risk.
Vaccinations started a day after new rules came into force, with restaurants and bars, museums and sports and leisure facilities closed and shops closed after 1 p.m. 19 in an attempt to reduce infection rates that have severely strained available capacity in the hospital.
Switzerland has registered 6,333 coronavirus-related deaths. Restrictions on public and private activities in the last two months have kept new cases below their peak, but the number of new infections per 100,000 people in the past week is stubbornly higher than in the UK, France, Italy or Spain.
To complicate matters, Swiss medical experts say the new coronavirus variant that has been identified in the UK has arrived in Switzerland with some of the 10,000 or so British travelers who arrived in the country in the past week. The new variant is not believed to be more lethal, but higher transfer rates threaten to increase the burden on healthcare. Swiss authorities have ordered anyone who has arrived from the UK since December 14 to be quarantined for 10 days, and officials said they had tracked down most of those who arrived.