France to begin Covid-19 vaccination programme ‘within weeks’

France to begin Covid-19 vaccination programme 'within weeks'
Prime minister Jean Castex, left, and health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: AFP
France is ready to begin its Covid-19 vaccination programme and the launch date is 'a matter of weeks', Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday.

Giving a briefing on France's vaccine strategy, Castex said the country was ready, and the first vaccinations – intended for the most at-risk groups – would begin in January.

He also announced that France would be buying its vaccines through the EU's purchase programme, telling reporters that six supply contracts have been signed by European authorities.

“Thanks to this work, the prices are the same for all countries (…) for quantities fixed on a pro-rata basis.”

He said that France would be able to access 200 million doses of vaccine under this scheme – the population of France is 67 million, but the vaccine requires two injections, several weeks apart.

 

He also said that médecins généralistes (GPs or family doctors) would be at the heart of the vaccination programme, and added that he hoped this would help people be confident in the vaccine.

“Everyone must be able to be vaccinated by a nearby health professional whom they know and trust,”  he said.

The vaccine will be free for everyone.

France's Health Minister Olivier Véran laid out a more detailed timetable for vaccinations, and the order they would be offered.

  • Phase 1 – will begin in January with of the most vulnerable groups – residents in the country's Ehpad nursing homes, as well as Ehpad staff. This represents around 1 million people.
  • Phase 2 – Beginning in February or March, this phase, which represents around 14 million people, and includes all those with risk factors for Covid-19. First will be people aged 74 or older, then the 65-74 age group, followed by healthcare workers and people aged 50 plus with risk factors for Covid-19 such as underlying health conditions.
  • Phase 3 – from late spring, this will be opened up to the rest of the population (around 52 million people). This would begin with people aged 50 plus and keyworkers including teachers and retail staff before moving to people in precarious living situations such as the homeless, people who lived in a communal setting and then the rest of the population.

 

With multiple different vaccines being developed, Véran also laid out a timetable for which vaccines are due for approval and when. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is due for final approval from the European medical regulator shortly would be the one used for phase 1 in January. The European Medicines Agency is due to make its approval decision by December 29th.

This requires storage at -70C so presents “considerable logistical difficulties” said Véran.

However he said that France has the necessary equipment and infrastructure to be able to distribute this. He said that trials of the logistics of distribution would be carried out throughout December.

By phase 2 of the programme in February, vaccines including the Moderna and AstraZeneca jabs could also be available and by phase 3 the French-developed Sanofi vaccine could be approved and available for use.

Véran also addressed vaccine scepticism in France after a poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that only 41 percent of adults said they intended to be vaccinated.

He said: “As well as Covid, we must vaccinate against fear and that too is my responsibility.”

He added that “the best weapon against fear is good understanding” pledging transparency on all scientific advice that the government received.

However he reiterated what president Emmanuel Macron had already stated about not making the vaccine compulsory, stressing that “no-one will be obliged to be vaccinated”.


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