6. FAQ on vaccination against COVID-19
Do you still have questions regarding vaccination?
The FAQs below cover the most frequently asked questions. They should help you make your choice.
Vaccination helps to protect yourself and to protect other people.
While a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection is most often a less severe form of COVID-19 for adults and children, the illness is more often worse for vulnerable people (ie. elderly people or people with an underlying health condition such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, cancer, immunosuppressive diseases and the treatment of them).
COVID-19 can cause severe complications and consequences, requiring long-term hospitalisation and, in some cases, the need for intensive care. COVID-19 can also be fatal. This is why it is therefore important to get vaccinated.
The Federal Office of Public Health, the Federal Commission for Vaccinations, cantonal doctors, the Swiss societies of doctors and specialists recommend vaccination.
For Pfizer/BioNTech's Comirnaty® vaccine, a minimum of 21 days between the two doses is required to obtain the COVID certificate.
For Moderna's COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna®, a minimum of 28 days between the two doses is required to obtain the COVID certificate.
For Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, however, there is no longer a maximum period between the two doses.
When registering for the vaccination, the second vaccination appointment is allocated according to the above deadlines but it is always possible to change the date of the second vaccination appointment, extending the deadline to 6 to 8 weeks after the first dose.
It should be noted that between the two doses, there is no 100% immunity, and it is therefore essential to continue to respect the rules of hygiene and conduct (interpersonal distances, wearing a mask, washing hands, etc.) to avoid any risk of contamination.
Currently, a person who has been infected is protected for six months after a proven COVID-19 illness, documented by a positive test (PCR or antigen) or by serological evidence (IgG anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies), because he or she has produced his or her own antibodies against the virus. This is called natural immunity. Vaccination is not necessary as long as natural immunity protects you. Therefore, if you are infected, you should postpone vaccination if you are ill and wait to register for vaccination once you have recovered.
After a positive COVID-19 test, a single dose as early as 6 months is sufficient for effective protection for a healthy person, and as early as 3 months for a vulnerable person. A second dose is nevertheless recommended for immuno-suppressed people and is available to those who wish to receive it.
If one gets sick with COVID-19 between the two doses of vaccine, then the second dose should be postponed to 3 months after infection for vulnerable or immuno-suppressed people and to 6 months for healthy people.
Yes, if you are eligible for vaccination in Geneva (see eligibility requirements), you can receive your second dose in Geneva, if the vaccine of your first dose is recognised in Switzerland (Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty® and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine Moderna®) and if you have proof of your first vaccination dose.
Vaccination currently protects against the risk of disease complications or death and is therefore particularly recommended for the elderly or for vulnerable people. However, vaccination is still recommended for the general population because :
- Vaccination protects you from COVID-19. Although many people do not develop symptoms or only a mild form of the disease, serious complications can occur. Even in cured people, including among the young and healthy population groups, a COVID-19 infection can leave important after-effects such as difficulty breathing during exercise or long term fatigue.
- By getting vaccinated, you also partly protect the people around you and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons (e.g. severe immunosuppressed persons). By getting vaccinated, you help to protect others and reduce the number of infections.
- The coronavirus has a great impact on social and economic life. The fewer the infections, the sooner we will be able to return to a normal lifestyle. Vaccination can thus reduce the negative social, economic, psychological and health consequences of the pandemic.
- Finally, vaccination will reduce the overload on hospitals, as fewer people will be severely ill, and it will therefore allow our health system to continue to function properly.
See FAQ contained under Registration for vaccination leaflet
Vaccination for young persons aged 12 to 15 years
Yes, to protect persons aged 12 to15 year olds against COVID-19, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Federal Commission for Vaccinations supply the Pfizer vaccine.
COVID-19 is an infection caused by a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It is mainly transmitted by sick people when they cough, sneeze, talk or sing. Even if people have no symptoms, they can transmit the virus.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can be strong or weak. Common symptoms are the following: sore throat, cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever, loss of taste and smell. More rarely, one may experience a headache, weakness, muscle pain, sneezing, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach ache or flushing.
Most of the time, the disease is mild among people aged 12 to 15 years - often they do not even have any symptoms. In rare cases, however, young people aged 12 to 15 can have severe or long-lasting form of COVID-19.
Following the recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health and the Federal Commission for Vaccinations, adolescents aged 12 and over may decide independently in favour of vaccination, if they are capable of judgement and after having received information on vaccination.
It is nevertheless advised that adolescents aged 12 to 15 discuss an individual action plan for vaccination against COVID-19 with their parents or another trusted person.
It is recommended that a parent(s) accompany the adolescent to his/her vaccination appointment.
Among adolescents aged 12 to 15 years without chronic diseases, a severe course of illness or complications may also occur, but these are much less frequent than among older people.
Vaccination is particularly beneficial for adolescents:
a) if they are chronically ill, to avoid a worsening of their condition in case of COVID-19 infection;
b) if they have close contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly or people with diseases such as cancer or who are taking medicines that lower their immunity.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine that is licensed today for 12 to 15 year olds. It is an mRNA vaccine. This vaccine, which is very effective for adults, is also effective for 12 to 15 year olds. It protects not only against the disease but also against the transmission of the virus to other people.
You are protected for 12 months after the last dose of vaccine and you will not need to quarantine yourself during this time.
You need two doses of Pfizer vaccine, at least 3 weeks apart, to be well protected. If you have already been ill with COVID (and have had a test or blood test for this), one shot is sufficient. The vaccine is injected into the arm muscle.
After the injection of the vaccine, you should stay in place for 15 minutes for observation following the first dose and only 5 minutes after the second dose, if everything went well during the first dose.
The Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective. Like all medicines, it can cause side effects. These are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects are reactions at the point of injection, such as pain, redness and swelling. One may also experience headache and fatigue. There may also be pain in the muscles or joints, shivering and fever.
A serious side effect cannot be excluded with certainty, but it is very rare. Very occasionally, a severe allergic reaction may occur, usually within minutes of the injection. This is why you should stay for a short time after the injection so that the vaccination centre staff can observe you and react by giving medication if necessary.
Everyone, regardless of age, should continue to follow the rules set by the health authorities to stop the spread of the virus, even after being vaccinated.
In Switzerland, the vaccines currently used in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign are: Comirnaty® manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech and COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna® manufactured by Moderna.
Studies that have been carried out on these vaccines show that they are the most effective.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved by Swissmedic on 19th December 2020. This vaccine contains a part of the genetic segment of the coronavirus called “messenger RNA” or “mRNA”. The RNA code is found in tiny droplets of fat. The messenger RNA instructs cells to create a harmless piece of protein, which resembles the outside layer of the coronavirus. When the immune system encounters this protein piece, it recognizes that it does not belong there, and therefore creates the antibodies to fight it. Through this process, our immune system is then prepared in case of infection and our bodies will be able to rapidly eliminate any coronavirus encountered. The messenger RNA injected with the vaccine is broken down and disappears completely after 1 – 2 days.
There are few differences between the Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty® and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine Moderna.® The differences are the following:
- Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine (Comirnaty) is licensed from the age of 16, Moderna's from the age of 18.
- The vaccines contain different additives.
Many elements are similar or identical for both vaccines. The similarities are the following:
- Both are mRNA vaccines.
- Both have high efficacy, close to 95%.
- Both products are well tolerated.
- Two injections are required at an interval of about four weeks. If the time between the two doses is slightly longer, this does not affect the efficacy.
- The second injection should be given with the same vaccine.
- Both products contain polyethylene glycol (PEG). Vaccination against COVID-19 is contraindicated if you have a known strong allergy to this substance.
Currently, it is not possible to choose your vaccine. The vaccine administered will depend on its availability. The two vaccines authorised and recommended in Switzerland are effective and safe.
Safety and effectiveness
Many studies have been carried out to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. These studies were carried out in accordance with international standards. They have taken place in many different countries and thousands of people agreed to participate in this research.
These studies have shown:
- Verification that the vaccines aren’t dangerous for our health (safety)
- Evidence that the vaccines protect us from the COVID-19 illness (effectiveness): For each 100 persons vaccinated with two doses, 95 of them avoided any infection when exposed to the virus. The 5 people who were infected only developed a mild form of the illness.
Based on these studies, Swissmedic approved of these vaccines.
To date, more than 1.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide (including more than 3.5 million in Switzerland): With more than a year of hindsight and a very reliable system to monitor very rare complications, we can say that both vaccines are safe.
No, because the small segment of genetic code (RNA) that is injected does not penetrate the nucleus of our cells where our DNA is located. It cannot therefore change our genetic code. Moreover, the injected RNA is very fragile and is automatically eliminated by our body two days after the injection. The RNA remains in the body just long enough to produce proteins that trigger the immune system's reaction, i.e. the production of antibodies. These proteins, too, disappear afterwards.
Although mRNA vaccines are a new technology, they have already been the subject of almost 30 years of research worldwide (first studies in 1993). A large number of trials and results are therefore already available.
The vaccines cannot cause COVID-19. Like most vaccines, these new ones can have mild side-effects. Such effects can appear on the day of vaccination or the day after. A few examples of some these are:
- Slight discomfort around the area of injection (swelling*, redness, pain)
- Other mild forms of inflammatory reactions caused by the activation of the immune system.
These reactions are normal and not dangerous. They may last between 1 and 3 days. They can be treated with paracetamol and do not need medical care. Pain can be treated with a cold pack.
Moreover, there is no correlation between the presence (and degree of intensity) of side effects following a vaccine and its effectiveness on the immune system. Anyone vaccinated with the vaccines used in Switzerland against COVID-19 will be protected against the severe forms of the disease, whether or not they experienced side effects following vaccination.
* A temporary inflammation at the injection spot has occasionally been observed after the COVID-19 vaccination called "COVID arm". This consists of redness and swelling, sometimes significant, which appears on the arm in where the vaccine was administered. These reactions usually occur about a week after vaccination. They are unpleasant but harmless, disappear after a few days without treatment, and have no long-term consequences. You can apply a cold pack to reduce the effects. If the discomfort is too great, contact your doctor, who will tell you how to alleviate it specifically. The second dose of the vaccination can and should be administered. It is recommended that the second dose be injected in the other arm instead.
Very rarely, severe side effects are observed, for example an allergic reaction (risk of less than 1 in 100,000 people). This reaction occurs within minutes of the injection and is quickly controlled with immediate medical attention. For this reason, vaccinated persons are monitored for at least 15 minutes after the injection.
No serious and long-lasting side effects are known to date. The authorities and vaccine manufacturers continue to monitor and collect data on side effects. If you experience serious side effects that are not listed above, contact your doctor.
Side effects of COVID-19 vaccines in Switzerland – update
Even if you have been vaccinated and obtained your COVID-19 certificate, countries may not recognise the vaccines in Switzerland and/or, depending on the epidemiological situation, may require a test (PRC or antigenic) in order to cross the border.
In all cases and whatever the time between your vaccination (first or second) and the test performed (PCR or antigenic), mRNA vaccines do not result in a positive PCR or antigenic test. You should therefore not cancel your vaccination appointment.
If your test is positive, it could only be because you have been in contact with a person infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The vaccine is not currently indicated for children under the age of 12 years because studies conducted to date have not included this population and there is a lack of data.
There are some people who would be advised to ot receive a vaccination (in medical terms it is “contraindicated”):
- People who have had a previous serious allergic reaction to any vaccine or its composites
Other people who may have to wait before getting vaccinated include:
- People who have had COVID-19 recently. It is recommended to wait three months after the start of any symptoms to get vaccinated.
- People who have an acute illness (fever, etc..).
- People in quarantine
- Pregnant women during the first term of pregnancy*
* Laboratory tests on the administration of a vaccine during the first 3 months of pregnancy do not however indicate any direct or indirect adverse effects on pregnancy, embryonic/fetal development, birth or postnatal development. Since 28 May 2021, vaccination is recommended by the FOPH for all women who are pregnant in their second or third term, and who are either healthy, vulnerable (i.e. chronically ill) or at increased risk of exposure (e.g. healthcare workers).
There are virtually no contraindications to the COVID-19 vaccines. People with seasonal, food or medication allergies can be vaccinated without any problem. In addition, each person vaccinated is monitored for 15 minutes after the injection so that severe allergic reactions, which almost always occur immediately, can be treated immediately.
However, the COVID-19 vaccine is not recommended for people with a proven severe allergy to one of its components. For the vaccines used in Switzerland, the components concerned are polyethylene glycol (PEG)/macrogol in the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and/or tromethamine in the Moderna vaccine.
However, allergic reactions to both vaccines available in Switzerland are very rare. If you have had a severe allergy after an injection (including a vaccine), it is recommended that you seek advice from your GP or allergist.
No, your vaccination should be postponed until after your quarantine period. If an appointment has already been made, you should call the vaccination centre where you were registered to reschedule.
No, vaccination is not indicated during an ongoing COVID-19 infection implying a period of isolation. Vaccination should be delayed for either three or six months (depending on state of health) because the infection provides at least three months of natural immunity that protects against re-infection.
In Switzerland, more than 200,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated. The data show that vaccination is safe for both the mother and the foetus. Vaccination has no known effect on pregnancy or fertility.
The vaccination recommendation for pregnant women has been broadened by the FOPH since 28th May 2021.
Now all pregnant women have the possibility to be vaccinated against COVID-19, under the conditions below:
- Vaccination with mRNA vaccines is recommended to all pregnant women with one of the chronic diseases defined for people vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as those with an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, subject to information and assessment of the benefits and risks of vaccination given by the gynaecologist, and the written consent of the patient.
- In addition, all pregnant women who wish to be vaccinated have the possibility to do so, subject to the same requirements.
- Vaccination is recommended from the 2nd term onwards.
Pregnant women should have received from their gynaecologist all necessary information and risk/benefit assessment regarding vaccination and their written consent will be needed too.
Immunity and vaccination coverage
Maximum vaccine protection begins two weeks after the second dose of vaccine.
The full length of on-going protection is not yet known. It could be somewhere between a few months and a few years. The effectiveness of the vaccine will be more certain once it has been tested on populations that have not been included in phases two and three of the trials. A booster vaccine might be necessary after one, two, three, five or ten years.
No, protective measures are still necessary because even if vaccination protects against a severe form of the disease, it is not yet known for sure whether being vaccinated prevents the virus from being transmitted. Protective measures (hand hygiene, wearing a mask and social distance) remain essential, even for vaccinated people.
No, vaccination primarily protects those who are vaccinated against a severe form of the disease. The more people who are vaccinated, the less the virus circulates. However, it is not expected that group immunity will be sufficient to curb the epidemic in the coming months.
Since its appearance, the virus has undergone several mutations and several variants are currently circulating around the world. Initially named after the country where they first appeared, some of the most common variants were renamed in June 2021, following a decision by the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Alpha is the so-called "British" variant, or B.1.1.7 ;
- Beta is the so-called "South African" variant, or B.1.351 ;
- Gamma is the so-called "Brazilian" variant, or P.1;
- Delta is one of the so-called "Indian" variants, or B.1.617.2 ;
- Kappa is its close cousin, also known as "Indian", or B.1.617.1.
The COVID-19 vaccine also protects against the variants of the coronavirus currently circulating in Switzerland. The mutations observed do not call into question the protection of the vaccine because the mutations do not affect the elements that determine the protective mechanism of the vaccine.
The Swiss health authorities are closely monitoring the development of new variants at the international level. If necessary, it should be possible to modify the vaccine accordingly.
In the case of an epidemic, it is possible that new variants emerge. Vaccination slows down the spread of the virus, thereby limiting the appearance and transmission of new variants. The less people get vaccinated, the higher the risk that variants will multiply.
Although vaccination provides very high protection against infection (about 94% with two doses of vaccine to prevent infection and severe forms of COVID-19), infection is still possible. Thus, even if a person has been vaccinated, he/she can be infected and can transmit the virus.
All people who test positive for COVID-19 should go into isolation, including vaccinated people. As with any person who tests positive, the cantonal medical service is informed of the test result and will carry out a family and friends survey to identify close contacts, and will formally announce the isolation.
Vaccinations against COVID-19 are free. The costs are covered by health insurance (with no excess chargeable), the cantons and the State. Vaccination is not subject to any deductible or part-payment.
Registration is done on the internet and requires a mobile phone number to confirm the registration.
For those who have difficulty registering online and are unable to get help from a relative, various options are possible without necessarily having to use the online vaccination registration platform:
- By calling the COVID-19 general information line (0800 909 400) to register on the on-line registration platform.
- By registering directly in two other pharmacies in Geneva (Phamacie Bleue at Vesenaz and Pharmacie du Mandement in Satigny). They will be vaccinated there.
- By contacting the Geneva Red Cross
- Walk-in vaccination (18+ only) in a shopping centre (Praille or Balexert) in partnership with the Pharmacie Principal group (Wednesdays from 2pm to 6pm or Saturdays from 9am to 5pm)
There are currently several vaccination centres in Geneva. Consult the list.
Though one ticks a choice of boxes for various vaccination centres while registering on the internet, appointments are currently attributed according to the "first registered, first served, first available spot" principle. So one's first choice is not necessarily the centre which one will be attributed.
It is also possible to go directly to several pharmacies and get vaccinated.
Cross-border commuters covered by compulsory health insurance in Switzerland (LAMal) can be vaccinated in Switzerland in accordance with the vaccination recommendations. The cost is covered by the compulsory health insurance, the Confederation and the cantons.
Cross-border commuters who are not insured in Switzerland but who, because of their professional activity in Geneva, are exposed to a risk of infection (e.g. health personnel in contact with patients or care personnel in homes and EMS) can also be vaccinated in our country according to the same procedure, and will have to present a certificate from their employer.
Cross-border commuters who are insured abroad (i.e. not under the LAMal scheme) and who do not belong to the exposed professional categories must be vaccinated in the country where they are domiciled.
A certificate is issued by the vaccination centre for each COVID-19 vaccination:
- the first is an intermediate certificate of vaccination;
- the second certificate gives a summary of the two doses. It provides information on the vaccine batch used in the COVID-19 vaccination, the name of the person vaccinated and the date of administration of the two doses.
People who receive only one dose of vaccine receive only the certificate for the first dose.
Vaccination certificates have no legal value, especially with regard to border crossings and international travel. It is neither a vaccination passport nor a COVID certificate. The latter is currently being developed by the Swiss federal authorities.
Anyone who has to travel or cross borders should rely solely on the screening tests that are currently recognised.
Before any cross-border travel, it is necessary to obtain information from the consular authorities of the country to which one is going or from the authorities issuing the transport ticket, about all current procedures concerning the crossing of borders (type of recognised tests, possible quarantine requirements).
Vaccination against COVID-19 is a free decision for each individual in Switzerland.
The law on epidemics provides that the Confederation and the cantons can declare vaccinations compulsory for vulnerable groups of people and for certain people under very strict conditions. Here, it is not currently the case. Today many people want to be vaccinated and register, but the number of doses available is currently limited. This is why there is a waiting list for vaccination but all persons registered will be vaccinated.
Check also :
- Information regarding vaccination in various languages (FOPH)
- Information in 16 langages proposed by the Swiss Red Cross regarding vaccination against COVID 19 in Switzerland: Explanations in English, Albanian, Amharic, Arab, Spanish, Farsi/Persan/Dari, Kurdish, Portugese, Russian, Romanian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian, Somali, Tamil, Tigrinya, Turkish)