Covid-19 vaccines in France – what can we expect?

Covid-19 vaccines in France - what can we expect?
Photo: AFP
The announcement of a '90 percent effective' Covid-19 vaccine sparked joy and relief around the world - but when and how are people in France likely to be able to access this?

The vaccine, a partnership between US pharmaceutical group Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, has been shown to be 90 percent effective in phase three trials, leading to hopes that mass vaccination programmes mean that lockdowns can at last start to lift and life can return to normal. 

But there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome before we get to that happy day.

Trials

The head of the EU health agency sounded a note of caution on Wednesday, warning that not everything is complete.

Andrea Ammon, the director of the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, told AFP: “Of course it's promising,” but stressed that so far it is a “press release and not yet a (scientific) peer review, so we have to see what the final assessment will be”.

France's health minister Olivier Véran also sounded a note of caution saying: “We have not yet had access to all the data.

He added: “We are preparing to start a vaccination campaign as soon as possible, provided that we have a guarantee that the vaccine is effective and safe.”

When?

Assuming that the peer reviews report no major issues, Ammon said that rollout of the vaccine could begin early next year.

He said: “I think optimistically first quarter next year, but I can't be more precise.”

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The media in some countries including the UK have been predicting that the vaccine will be rolled our before Christmas, but Ammon's take suggests that February or March would be more likely for a large scale vaccination campaign to begin.

This chimes with sources from the World Health Organisation, who were also quoted saying that March would be likely for a first mass roll-out.

Take-up

Once the vaccine is available, there is then the issue of whether people will be willing to be vaccinated.

France is a country that historically has a high number of vaccine-sceptics, and a recent poll showed that French people topped the table in saying they would not be willing to be vaccinated.

READ ALSO Why are the French so against vaccines?

 

France has a long-standing issue with vaccine scepticism, although that doesn't always translate into low vaccine rates.

This season the French government trebled its order of flu vaccines but that was not enough to meet the demand and in the first week of the flu jab campaign five million doses were given.

In 2019, a total of 10 million people received the flu vaccine – nearly one seventh of the population – which would cover the majority of people in the 'high risk' groups who are advised to get the jab.

Compulsory? 

Given the high rates of vaccine scepticism, there has already been some debate in France as to whether the virus should be compulsory, with the Green party MEP Yannick Jardot calling for the vaccine to be made compulsory.

There are now 11 childhood vaccinations that are compulsory in France – diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccinations have been compulsory for some time, but in 2018 another eight were added to the list; whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, influenza, pneumonia and meningitis C.

When registering their child in a French school, parents need to provide a vaccination certificate.

However vaccines for adults, such as the flu vaccine, are not currently compulsory and are merely advised to those in high risk groups such as the elderly, chronically ill or pregnant women.

Practicalities

So assuming the vaccine passes its peer review and assuming that people are willing to have the jab, how will France roll out the programme?

It's early days yet and the French government has not released any detailed information, but it seems likely that it will follow the pattern of the seasonal flu vaccine, with vulnerable groups being called to get the jab first before it is rolled out to the wider population.

You can read more about how France's flu vaccination programme works here, but  those classed as vulnerable 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

They are generally notified by their doctor or assurance maladie to get the jab. However in the case of the flu jab, it is also available to anyone who wants it, and can be administered by either doctors or pharmacists.

France has also pledged €100 million to the global fund that ensures that all countries can access Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.


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