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HEALTH

‘Absurd’: France denies favouring French firm after slow Covid-19 vaccine rollout

France on Wednesday said its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, slammed as scandalously slow by critics, would need vaccines from multiple sources, but dismissed as "absurd" claims it was holding out for a jab co-produced by a French firm.

'Absurd': France denies favouring French firm after slow Covid-19 vaccine rollout
A nurse administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine to an elderly person in Montpellier, south of France, on January 4th. Photo: AFP

France's drive has seen only 7,000 people immunised since December 27th, compared with hundreds of thousands given a vaccine in Germany within the same timespan and over 1.3 million in the UK, which started earlier.

The campaign in the EU is so far solely using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – though a vaccine from US firm Moderna was approved by a watchdog Wednesday and the bloc is keen to bring other vaccine sources online.

But a vaccine developed by France's Sanofi and Britain's GSK may only be ready later in the year due to delays and will still need approval.

“The vaccine strategy cannot be based on a single vaccine. Hence the importance of having done this on a European level which guarantees us access to at least six vaccines,” Europe Minister Clément Beaune told CNews television. 

READ ALSO: France to launch online platform so people can sign up for Covid-19 vaccine

Allegations have been aired in Germany by leftwing politicians, but also by the hugely influential mass circulation Bild daily that France pressured the EU to order fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to help Sanofi.

In comments late Tuesday, Beaune described such claims as “unacceptable and false”.

“It is absurd to pit countries and labs against each other, all countries need all vaccines and to vaccinate as many people as possible by summer.”

“Isolated strategies can be a temptation in the short term, but they are ineffective over time,” he said.

'Mauricette syndrome'

The French government on Tuesday vowed to drastically speed up vaccinations, notably with a change of strategy to include health workers over 50, as well as residents of care homes.

But this has not dampened criticism of the laggardly rollout, a problem compounded by high levels of scepticism in France about vaccines.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Wednesday confirmed reports that global management consultants McKinsey & Company have been hired to provide “logistical and strategic advice” to French authorities on the vaccine campaign.

READ ALSO: How France is changing its Covid-19 vaccine strategy after anger at slow start

Reaffirming pledges of a faster pace, he said some 500 vaccination centres outside hospitals would be set up in France within two weeks.

France would have 1 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses by Wednesday evening and then would be getting 500,000 every week, he added.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is due to speak at a press conference late on Thursday and, with little chance of restaurants and cultural events reopening in France this month, Attal vowed he would provide as “much visibility as possible”.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from the French government's Covid-19 announcement?

The slow rollout has proved a massive embarrassment for the government, prompting opposition claims of a fiasco, even at a time when France is seeing lower infection rates than Germany or the UK.

A widely-shared internet meme Wednesday mocking the government showed a graphic with the large numbers vaccinated elsewhere while France had only given the jab to “Mauricette”, a care home resident who was the first French person to be vaccinated.

 

The Canard Enchainé weekly was the latest outlet Wednesday to report that President Emmanuel Macron is furious over the slow rollout, citing him as yelling at a meeting Monday “enough of the Mauricette syndrome”

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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