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How vaccine technology, choice and supply work in Switzerland

The Swiss Covid-19 vaccination campaign is up and running with two approved vaccines available to accelerate the fight against the virus, and others set to follow. How do the vaccine technologies work and compare, and can people choose which one they get?This content was published on January 21, 2021 – 09:00January 21, 2021 – 09:00Simon Bradley, (text), Kai Reusser (graphic), Céline Stegmüller (animation)See in another language: 1

So far, there are two vaccines available in Switzerland, those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Demand far outstrips supply, but the recent approval of Moderna’s vaccine by regulator Swissmedic means that Switzerland “can now significantly increase our vaccination campaign”, according to Christoph Berger, president of the Federal Commission for Vaccinations.

The Swiss campaign has been hit by a temporary delay to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Europe. But this will not affect the country’s overall goal of inoculating all at-risk groups by the end of March, say Swiss health officials.

Who gets a jab first?

The two approved vaccines are very similar. Both use new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which contains instructions for human cells to make harmless spike proteins that mimic part of the coronavirus.

The instructions spur the immune system into action, prompting it to make antibodies and activate T-cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight the coronavirus. No actual live Covid-19 virus is contained in the vaccines and the mRNA, protected in oily bubbles of lipid nanoparticles, never enters the nucleus of the cell where our DNA is kept.Play Video

Trials have shown both mRNA vaccines to be highly effective (see graphic below). The main differences are how they are administered and stored.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit). Once thawed, it can only be refrigerated for five days. The vaccine requires a special shipping container packed with dry ice to keep it at the proper temperature.

Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at standard freezer temperatures of -20C (-4F) for up to six months. After it’s thawed, it can be kept in a refrigerator for up to 30 days.

“The storage and transportation [of the Moderna vaccine] are simpler, and its already in liquid form with ten doses per vial [compared to five for Pfizer/BioNTech that has to be carefully prepared],” explained Patrick Genoud, coordinator of Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) vaccination centre.

“We can prepare the Moderna shots beforehand and transport them from one old people’s home to another with much greater flexibility.”

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