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HEALTH

Online appointments and 600 centres – how France is speeding up its Covid-19 vaccine rollout

France's health minister has laid out further details for how the country will 'amplify, accelerate and simplify' its much-criticised Covid-19 vaccine programme.

Online appointments and 600 centres - how France is speeding up its Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Photo: AFP

France gave its first Covid-19 vaccine injection on December 28th, but since then only a few thousand people have received the vaccine and there has been growing frustration at the slow pace of the roll-out.

Speaking at a press conference in which Prime Minister Jean Castex extended restrictions including bar closures and border restrictions, Health minister Oliver Véran laid out details of how France intends to expand the programme

Unlike other European countries, France chose to begin the programme in its Ehpad nursing homes, which house the most vulnerable elderly people and saw high death tolls during the first wave of Covid in the spring. Véran said this is a slower process than vaccinating in the community and that this in part accounts for France's slower start.

This week vaccinations began of health workers and 25,000 health workers, emergency workers and home helps were vaccinated on Thursday, he said, after 12,500 on Wednesday, a programme that would continue to accelerate.

In total 45,000 people have been vaccinated in the past five days.

Graphic: French health ministry

While vaccinations in Ehpads – of staff and residents – and health workers will continue, the next phase opens up appointments for the over 75s.

This process has also been simplified so that although people can have an appointment with their regular doctor first to discuss any concerns, this is not essential.

 

Instead, from January 14th, people aged over 75 will be able to make an appointment by phone or online for an injection. They will have to fill out a health questionnaire and give consent, and then will be given the injection by a doctor or nurse. Online appointments will be via the sante.fr website.

They will stay in the vaccination centre for 15 minutes afterwards, in case of any side effects, and then go home. The second dose of the vaccination will be given three to six weeks after the first.

Graphic: French health ministry

Appointments across France will begin on January 18th, but in some areas could be earlier than that.

By the end of January there will be 600 vaccination centres set up across France and the government aims to have 1 million people vaccinated by the end of the month.

France has a phased plan where people in highest risk groups get the vaccine first, after over 75s come over 65s and although a firm date was not given for this it is hoped appointments for this group will begin in mid February or early March.

Vaccinations in January will all be done with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which presents logistical challenges as it must be stored at -70C, but after that the Moderna vaccine can also be used.

France has received 1.5 million doses of vaccine and will get an extra 500,000 doses a week throughout January and February. From March this will increase to 1 million doses a week.

The health minister ended his presentation with a plea for people to be vaccinated. France has a historically high rate of vaccine scepticism and recent polls have seen 60 percent of people telling pollsters that they do not intend to be vaccinated – although rates for other vaccines such as the flu shot are broadly in line with other countries.

Véran asked people to “get vaccinated, persuade your loved ones to be vaccinated, take the opportunity that science has offered you”.

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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