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HEALTH

French health regulator recommends AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine for under-65s only

France's top health authority has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use on 18 to 65-year-olds only, following the lead of several other European countries who say there is not enough data to show its effectiveness on over 65s.

French health regulator recommends AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine for under-65s only
The AstraZeneca vaccine. Photo: AFP

The European Medicines Agency has licenced the AstraZeneca vaccine for use on all age groups, but health regulators in Germany, Sweden and Austria have cleared it only for 18-65-years old, saying there is not enough data to prove its efficiency for the over 65s.

The French medical body Haute Autorité de santé on Tuesday followed their lead, recommending it only for under 65s.

French President Emmanuel Macron was on Tuesday evening holding an emergency meeting with vaccine producers and laboratories in France.

The object of the meeting was to “take stock of the current state of vaccine production capacity” at the French and European levels and to “call for this capacity to be maximised in the short term” in order to “increase it rapidly and significantly”, the president's office said.

The meeting was attended by France's health minister, industry minister and director general of public health, along with the European Commission's health chief Sandra Gallina by video link.

The French pharma giant Sanofi has already announced that it will produce an extra 125 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, since its own vaccine will not be ready for the market for many months yet. 

It comes as the European Commission indicated that it is shifting its early Covid-19 vaccination strategy away from AstraZeneca after the Anglo-Swedish company fell far short in its delivery of doses.

Gallina told MEPs the firm has been able to guarantee just 25 percent of the more than 100 million doses promised and that this was “a real issue” for the EU's 27 countries.

“AstraZeneca was going to be the mass vaccine for quarter one,” she said, referring to the first three months of 2021. “The fact that AstraZeneca is not there in the quantities that were stipulated in the contract is quite problematic for all member states.”

Gallina added that the Commission was now looking to the vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to fill the gap.

France had based its vaccine strategy largely on the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for January and February.

Unlike the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine which must be stored at -70C, the AstraZeneca one can be stored at between 4C and 8C and is therefore easier to administer in the community.

The French government has given the go-ahead for pharmacies to begin offering the AstraZeneca, vaccine, with the first doses expected to be available in pharmacies by the third week of February.

French pharmacies already offer vaccines including the flu vaccine, although the Covid jab is expected to be on an appointment basis within the priority group timetables, which place the most vulnerable at the front of the queue.

The French government has been the subject of much criticism for its slow start to the vaccine programme, although this has picked up speed in recent weeks and now 1.4 million people have received the injection.

 

France has decided not to delay the second dose of the vaccine and is sticking with the manufacturer's recommendation of 3-4 weeks between the first and second dose – a feared shortage of doses lead to some first-dose appointments being cancelled last week.

However even with the increased pace of the vaccination campaign, France is still lagging well behind many other European countries.

 

Health minister Olivier Véran has said that everyone who wants the vaccine will have it by the end of August, but supply problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine have lead to France's February target of 4 million people vaccinated being downgraded to “between 2.5 million and 4 million” people.

At present the vaccine programme is France is only to four groups; over 75s, people under 75 with serious health conditions, healthcare workers over 50 or with a health conditions and residents and staff in the country's Ehpad nursing homes.

The next two groups – 65-74-year-olds and all healthcare workers – are expected in February but no date has yet been set for this.

Anyone who is in a priority group can book an appointment direct.

READ ALSO How to book an appointment for the Covid vaccine in France

Member comments

  1. I hope Macron has agreed to this. His well known expertise in all matters medical is valuable.(Not)
    Sanofi screwed up so they are having to produce Pfizer’s vaccine Quel honte!

  2. Latest studies from the USA show that the UK is absolutely right in its rollout of this drug and that Franc has got this badly wrong. As someone over 65 I hope France gets up to date on this asap.I would also point out that 5 million EU citizens resident in the UK will be getting vaccinated according to UK protocols. Is France saying any EU citizens in Britain over 65 should not accept an AZ vaccination ?

  3. What the story is saying is that it’s not RECOMMENDED for over 65s ( not withstanding it’s not for any children, pregnant or lactating women and certain other medically compromised people). It then talks about the 65-74 age cohort being vaccinated- so the government is STILL vaccinating these people AGAINST HEALTH recommendation? I would go with the experts advice, its there for a REASON.

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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