Flu epidemic in France: Do I need to get a vaccination?

France is in the grip of a deadly flew epidemic. Here's what you need to know about vaccinations.

Flu epidemic in France: Do I need to get a vaccination?
Nurses in Dijon administer a shot. Photo: AFP
The flu outbreak in France right now has seen nearly 800,000 people consulting their GPs, and 142 of the country's 840 hospitals are at “stress level”. 
So is it too late to get a vaccination?
Well, it depends on your age and level of health, say doctors. A vaccination “can still be useful” for the elderly and the frail health consultant Alain Ducardonnet told the BFM TV channel.
He added that the elderly, the frail, or those suffering from chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes can still benefit from the shot. 
Indeed, the government urged the elderly and those with heart or lung problems to get a flu jab following the death of 13 residents at a nursing home in Lyon last week. It has since launched an investigation into their deaths. 
For the rest of us, however, it's essentially too late to get the vaccination, as it takes two to three weeks before it takes effect and the worst will be over by then. 
The peak of the virus is expected some time next week, after which point the flu will (hopefully) shrivel up and disappear until next January. 
Ducardonnet added that those who got vaccinated in October and November were well protected this time around, considering the vaccine worked against the H3N2 strain that happened to be spreading around this time. 
The best way to avoid catching the flu yourself (and indeed, to avoid passing it on if you already have it), is to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, to wash your hands regularly, to avoid going out if possible, and to throw used tissues in a closed bin. 

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French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars

The annual flu vaccination campaign in France was only launched last week, yet already pharmacies across the country have sold out of doses.

French pharmacies run out of flu vaccines as demand soars
High risk groups such as the elderly are now being prioritised. Photo: AFP

Desperate to avoid hospitals facing the combined pressure of flu patients and Covid-19 patients this winter, the French government launched a greatly expanded flu vaccination programme this year, urging anyone in a risk group to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

But demand has far outstripped what the government anticipated, and just a week after the campaign was launched on October 13th, pharmacies across the country are declaring rupture de stock (sold out) of vaccines. Around 60 percent of pharmacies are reporting shortages of flu vaccine.

Gilles Bonnefond, president of the pharmacists union l' Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) told France Info: “We have already vaccinated nearly five million people in less than five days.

“This is almost half of what was done all last year during the entire vaccination campaign.”

In 2019 the flu vaccine campaign was expanded and pharmacies were allowed to administer the vaccine for the first time – that year saw just over 10 million people vaccinated, roughly one sixth of the population.

This year, however, take-up has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 threat.

“Last week, we sold 51 percent of the doses that we sold all last year”, Pascal Fontaine, purchasing director of the Pharmacie Lafayette group, added.

The government is now asking people who do not fall into priority groups to delay their vaccination so that the most high-risk groups can be protected first.

Anyone who is registered in the French health system and falls into a high risk group is usually contacted by their doctor or assurance maladie inviting them to be vaccinated, with a code to present for a free vaccine.

High risk groups are:

  • Over 65s
  • People with chronic or long-term health conditions
  • People with a BMI of 40 or over
  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with those who cannot be vaccinated, including babies and those who are immunocompromised

However anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, either by making an appointment with their GP or visiting a pharmacy. For those people the vaccine is free but they will have to pay the standard medical appointment charge for it to be administered.

It is these people that the government is asking to delay getting their jab.


The government purchased 30 percent more doses than usual this year, but will now have to order more to cover the higher-than-expected demand.

A spokesman for the health ministry said: “We urge people who do not present a particular risk and who would like to be vaccinated, to postpone their vaccination until early December.”

For more details on high risk groups and the payment system, click here.