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American Hospital of Paris accused of giving early Covid vaccines to board members and donors

French health minister Olivier Véran is to investigate reports that the American Hospital of Paris offered the Covid-19 vaccine to its directors and donors in January, breaking with France's priority rules by pushing 'VIPs' to the front of the line.

American Hospital of Paris accused of giving early Covid vaccines to board members and donors
The American Hospital of Paris in the western suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. Photo: AFP

Situated in the wealthy suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, west of the capital, the American Hospital of Paris is alleged to have been allowing board members and donors to get the Covid injection, according an investigative report by French news site France Info.

The hospital offered the vaccine to both its Board of Governors (some 20 people) and certain donors, several of whom are neither health workers nor in the age groups currently allowed access to the vaccine, according to France Info.

“I was called in for a vaccination . . . on January 14th,” honorary governor Bruno Durieux, 76, told France Info. “All the governors were invited to do so.”

France has a strict vaccination schedule, developed to prioritise those most vulnerable to the virus first by putting the elderly and people with serious underlying health conditions at the front of the queue. 

Contacted by France Info, the American Hospital of Paris said it had vaccinated “all voluntary and eligible people working in the hospital (doctors, caregivers, administrators, governors, cleaning, security and catering providers, volunteer volunteers) according to the criteria of the Ministry of Health and in accordance with the directives of the health authorities.”

But over-75s who are not in nursing homes have only been able to book vaccine appointments since January 18th – four days after the 76-year-old board member Durieux said he had received the call.

Meanwhile the vaccination of healthworkers who are aged under 50 only began on Saturday, February 6th, with the first deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine to France.

IN NUMBERS: Why France needs to drastically speed up its Covid vaccine programme

On Monday Health Minister Olivier Véran received the AstraZeneca vaccine at a hospital in Melun, a move that was criticised by some, although as a neurologist as well as a politician he is entitled to the injection.

But most of the board members of the American Hospital of Paris do not currently work in the health sector. Nor are all of them they old enough to qualify for a priority dose. Some board members are in their 40s and 50s, including millionaire Bernaud Lagardère, 59, and Helen Lee Bouygues, 45.

The report also said the hospital had offered some of its first Pzifer vaccine doses to elderly family members of important donors, breaching with the rules set by France’s health authority Haute Autorité de santé.

READ ALSO: 10 of the funniest things people said about the French health minister’s semi-topless vaccine photo

The sixth and seventh doses of the Pfizer vaccine were popularly called “the VIP dose” among doctors, one hospital management person told France Info, as these doses require special equipment and skill to extract, and was additional to the initial calculation of five Pfizer doses per bottle.
 
This was “the one that can be given to non-priority people,” they said, adding that “this behaviour, if morally reprehensible, is not condemnable by law.”
 
But the health minister said that, if true, such subjective line-cutting by hospitals was unacceptable.

“I won’t accept favouritism,” Véran said on Tuesday, questioned by France Info’s radio channel about the report.

“Upon leaving your studio, I will contact the management of this hospital to see if these facts are confirmed or not,” he said. “If they were to be confirmed I regret it.”

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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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