By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland approved Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, making it the second shot after Pfizer and BioNTech's to be approved in the country and clearing the way to get up to 1.5 million doses from the firms through February.
The Swiss drug regulator Swissmedic's decision comes days after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to Moderna's vaccine. The messenger RNA vaccine, relying on similar technology as that used by Pfizer-BioNTech, is a two-dose shot that in trials showed 95% efficacy.
Switzerland has been a second-wave coronavirus hotspot, with infections totalling some 500,000 and deaths rising by dozens daily to more than 7,500.
The country, which has been vaccinating with Pfizer-BioNTech's shots since before Christmas, this week canceled the famed Lauberhorn World Cup ski race, due to COVID-19 fears.
Health ministry officials have predicted the country will get a total of 500,000 doses in January, and another one million doses in February, with Moderna's shot adding to totals.
"Following a thorough review of all the submitted data on safety, efficacy and quality, Swissmedic has today temporarily authorised the Moderna vaccine," the regulator said.
The vaccine comes with a "Made in Switzerland" label, as contract drug manufacturer Lonza makes its active ingredients at its factories in Visp, near the Matterhorn mountain.
Lonza said on Monday production at the first of three new Visp manufacturing lines has started, with the first batch due before the end of the month.
Switzerland has ordered some 15 million vaccine doses, including from AstraZeneca whose products have yet to be approved, after setting aside 400 million Swiss francs ($455 million) for shots. High global demand from everywhere, combined with limited production, means there is too little vaccine to go around.
Still, the country has told its 8.6 million residents that everybody who wants to will likely be able to get vaccinated by next summer.
(Reporting by John Miller; editing by Thomas Seythal and Angus MacSwan)