GENEVA — A 90-year-old woman living in a retirement home received the first Covid-19 inoculation in Switzerland on Wednesday as the Alpine nation began its Covid-19 vaccination program.
A few countries, including Britain and the United States, have started vaccinations, but the inoculations 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 spaced weeks apart.
Vaccinations, which are voluntary and provided at no cost, were scheduled to start on Wednesday in six of the 26 cantons, with the rollout spreading to the rest of the nation over the next few weeks.
The vaccination program gives priority to four groups of people: anyone older than 75 or with a chronic illness; health care workers and caregivers, people in close contact with those at high-risk of the disease; and people living or working in communal facilities that are identified as at increased risk.
Vaccinations started a day after new rules came into effect closing restaurants and bars, museums and sports and leisure facilities and shutting shops after 7 p.m. in an effort to reduce infection rates that have severely strained available hospital capacity.
Switzerland has recorded 6,333 coronavirus-related deaths. Restrictions on public and private activities over the past two months have kept new cases below their peak, but the rate of new infections per 100,000 people in the past 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 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 fatal but higher rates of transmission threaten to add to the strain on health care facilities. The Swiss authorities have ordered anyone who has arrived from Britain since Dec. 14 to go into quarantine for 10 days, and officials said they had traced most of those arrivals.