GENEVA – A 90-year-old woman who lives in a nursing home received the first Covid-19 vaccine in Switzerland on Wednesday, when the alpine country started its Covid-19 vaccination program.
Some countries, including Britain and the United States, have started vaccinations, but the vaccines issued on Wednesday in the central Swiss canton of Lucerne were the first on the European continent.
Swiss regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last weekend, and the first 107,000 doses of an order of three million arrived on Tuesday. The vaccines Moderna and AstraZeneca are still under review, but authorities in Switzerland, a country with eight million inhabitants, have already ordered 12.8 million doses. Vaccines require two doses with an interval of weeks.
Vaccines, which are voluntary and free, were scheduled to start on Wednesday in six of the 26 cantons, with implantation spreading to the rest of the country in the coming weeks.
The vaccination program prioritizes four groups of people: over 75 years old or with a chronic disease; health professionals and caregivers, people in close contact with people at high risk for the disease; and people living or working in community facilities identified as at increased risk.
Vaccination began the day after new rules came into force, closing restaurants and bars, museums and sports and leisure facilities, and closing stores after 7 pm, in an effort to reduce infection rates that have severely impaired capacity hospital available.
Switzerland recorded 6,333 coronavirus-related deaths. Restrictions on public and private activities in the past two months have kept new cases below the peak, but the rate of new infections per 100,000 people last week remains stubbornly higher than in Britain, France, Italy or Spain.
To complicate matters, Swiss medical experts say the new coronavirus variant that has been identified in Britain has arrived in Switzerland with about 10,000 British travelers who arrived in the country last week. The new variant is not believed to be more fatal, but higher transmission rates threaten to increase pressure on healthcare facilities. Swiss authorities have ordered anyone who has arrived from Britain since December 14 to be quarantined for 10 days, and officials said they tracked most of those arrivals.