When news of successful vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus was announced, many expected a relatively rapid transition back to normal life. However, more than two months since the first doses of vaccine were administered in Switzerland only 4.3% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Why has progress been so slow?

© Vetre Antanaviciute-meskauskiene

The problem seems to be supply. Of the 1,6 million doses ordered by Switzerland for March, only 1.2 million have been delivered.

The quantities of vaccine available are far below the nation’s capacity to vaccinate. For example, the health authorities in Vaud say they could vaccinate 10,000 people a day. However, they have had only between 2,000 and 2,500 daily doses available, according to RTS. Last week, deliveries of the Moderna vaccine were delayed by a week.

Manufacturing vaccines is complicated. Manufacturing viral-vector vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, is a well established process however making them is relatively complex and difficult to scale up.

DNA and mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna ones, are relatively easy to make, however, they are new and machines and processes for producing them are less well established. The current bottleneck for these vaccines is a shortage of the special machinery required to complete the final combining of ingredients. Creating the mRNA and the lipids required for these vaccines can be done fairly fast and there is plenty of capacity. The bottleneck is manufacturing capacity to combine the two ingredients.

Israel, the world’s vaccination leader, reportedly cut an early deal with Pfizer and traded anonymised health data in return for a large slice of the drugmakers early supply.

The UK has benefited from acting early. It had signed in-principle agreements with some manufacturers as early as August 2020, according to Politico. The UK also did a good job of scaling up production of its home grown AstraZeneca vaccine.

And while Switzerland (12 per 100 doses administered) is far behind global vaccination leaders Israel (106), UAE (65), the UK (36), Chile (32) and the US (30), it remains ahead of the EU (10), according to Our World in Data.

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