Several French hospitals pause AstraZeneca vaccine campaign over temporary side effects

Several French hospitals are pausing or slowing down AstraZeneca vaccination programmes for their staff because severe - albeit temporary - side effects have caused many employees to need sick leave, causing severe logistical problems in already over-stretched services.

Several French hospitals pause AstraZeneca vaccine campaign over temporary side effects
Studies show these secondary effects have nothing to do with the AstraZeneca vaccine’s effectiveness, and are not harmful. Photo: AFP

Since French health workers started receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine on February 6th, many have reported experiencing side effects including a high fever (40C), fatigue and general flu-like symptoms.

The French health ministry has moved to reassure staff that these effects are temporary and do not mean that the vaccine does not work.

But now some hospitals in France have decided to slow down their vaccination campaigns in order to avoid having too many staff off sick at the same time, while others are pausing them altogether.

Thomas Bourhis, a nurse at CHRU hospital in Brest, Brittany, told BFMTV. “The CHRU Brest hospital undertook an unusual strategy, because it created a vaccination team that went to the departments that were most exposed to Covid-19, which means entire teams were vaccinated all at once.

“But it turns out the side effects were underestimated, and we found ourselves with almost a third of health workers in some departments presenting severe symptoms and having to go on sick leave.

“The roll out of this vaccine has therefore been suspended temporarily at the hospital.”

Studies show these secondary effects have nothing to do with the vaccine’s effectiveness, and are not harmful.

“The secondary effects of the Covid-19 vaccines are carefully monitored by ANSM [The French National Drug Safety Agency]. For the AstraZeneca vaccine, it’s important to remember that any side effects remain benign and temporary,” the health ministry said in a tweet.

In a report published on Thursday, the ANSM listed “149 declarations between February 6th and 10th mentioning flu symptoms, often of high intensity”. The average age of the health professionals concerned was 34.

To avoid disrupting healthcare services, the ANSM recommended “staggering vaccination in staff”.

The Poitiers University Hospital (CHU de Poitiers) has began to do this by avoiding vaccinating entire teams all at once, and at least three hospitals in the west of France have suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations of their staff, according to a report by France Bleu.

A hospital in Saint-Lô in Normandy has also slowed down its vaccinations, while the CHRU de Brest hospital (Finistère) has decided to suspend its vaccination campaign completely, according to Ouest France.

The AstraZeneca vaccine in France is only licenced for under 65s, so until now it has been used almost exclusively on health professionals, while older people visiting vaccine centres get the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna jabs.

Starting on Thursday, people between the ages of 50 and 64 with underlying health conditions can also begin to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine through their GPs or in the workplace.

The AstraZeneca jab is also expected to be used more widely once France rolls out injections more widely in the community, particularly in pharmacies, since it does not require the super-cold storage of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

Member comments

    1. Whether it works or not, the side effects immediately after getting the vaccine are potentially debilitating for some people in the short term. Fine if you can go home and sleep it off but for overstretched medical services probably not the best choice of vaccine to administer. Overall I prefer the caution of the French government to the gung ho attitude ‘take it on the chin’ approach of some countries.

      1. So here’s the thing. I think Brexit a category error of the first order and campaigned hard against it. It’s a self-inflicted wound.

        I also think the UK Government has done as badly as any country on a) the economy and b) the number of deaths.

        But I can also hold in my head that they have done well on vaccines. The UK data is dramatic and unquestionable. And for European countries to ignore the positive impact of delaying the second dose so as to enable the vaccination of as many as possible – and the widespread use of the successful AZ vaccine for as many as possible including the over 65s – breaks my heart.

        My wife’s 91-year-old grandmother lives in Finisterre. Still waiting for her vaccine. If she lived in the UK she would have had hers in December.

        One last point Rob. I have a friend who got covid in March last year. Before he got it he was fit, mountain biked/road biked most days.

        Now he’s debilitated and can’t work. We need to weigh the balance rationally. One day feeling a bit off vs the dangers of serious illness, death or long Covid? It’s not a choice at all. Cheers.

        1. I think you are missing the point of my comment as well as that of the article. Overstretched medical staff cannot afford to be off work…the side effects of this particular vaccine are such that they are losing days to recover from it (some of them at any rate). So for them one of the other vaccines would be preferable. I have lost a few friends to covid since last year, so trust me I am well aware of its seriousness.

          As to your mother-in-law – why has she not got her vaccine? All of my friends over the age of 75 have…though as these have to be booked online some needed assistance to make the appointments. I also live in Finistere btw but at 45 years of age am unlikely to see a vaccine before the end of this year at the current pace of rollout.

          1. To answer your points.

            1. We simply cannot afford to pick and choose between vaccines in a crisis. Especially when France is short of vaccine overall. And especially when there is zero evidence of widespread side-effects in the UK – and huge evidence that the AZ vaccine works brilliantly. Even the article above refers to one day max. And if medical staff don’t take AZ, how on earth do they expect the general public to take it?

            2. I am really sorry you have lost friends. This is an awful situation and it has touched everyone. We all need light at the end of the tunnel

            3. She has been told she is not a priority – she’s an unusual lady, lives independently on her own. It’s an extraordinary and very stressful situation for my wife and her family and it’s very hard to see that happen vs medical staff refusing a vaccine.

            4. I hope (as a UK and French dual citizen) that France gets the programme up and running better very soon. We all have a huge stake in this. I wish you and yours the best.

      2. Just to clarify if I can, it was an ex-public schoolboy, who likes to sound dynamc by using what he thinks are go-getting phrases, who caused that gung-ho impression. The rest of the UK certainly doesn’t have that attitude. (In fact vast numbers in the UK are embarrassed beyond belief every time same ex-public schoolboy opens his mouth and those vast numbers would never even be at home with public school, male adolescent idioms. Actually the start of that interview segment showed him saying “there is a view that…”, so it wasn’t direct expression of his own thoughts but the impression stuck.)

  1. How much slower could this rollout possibly go?
    Covid estimating herd immunity by end of September 2023 at this point.

  2. Here are 12 important questions and answers before considering getting vaccinated:

    ●”If I get vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask(s)?”
    Government: “NO”
    ●”If I get vaccinated will the restaurants, bars, schools, fitness clubs, hair salons, etc. reopen and will people be able to get back to work like normal?
    Government: “NO”
    ●”If I get vaccinated will I be resistant to Covid?”
    Government: “Maybe. We don’t know exactly, but probably not.”
    ●”If I get vaccinated, at least I won’t be contagious to others – right?”
    Government: “NO. the vaccine doesn’t stop transmission.”
    ●”If I get vaccinated, how long will the vaccine last?”
    Government: “No one knows. All Covid “vaccines” are still in the experimental stage.”
    ● “If I get vaccinated, can I stop social distancing?”
    Government: “NO”
    ● “If my parents, grandparents and myself all get vaccinated can we hug each other again?”
    Government: “NO”
    ● “So what’s the benefit of getting vaccinated?”
    Government: “Hoping that the virus won’t kill you.”
    ●”Are you sure the vaccine won’t injure or kill me?”
    Government: “NO”
    ●”If statistically the virus won’t kill me (99.7% survival rate), why should I get vaccinated?”
    Government: “To protect others.”
    ●”So if I get vaccinated, I can protect 100% of people I come in contact with?”
    Government: “NO”
    ● “If I experience a severe adverse reaction, long term effects (still unknown) or die from the vaccine will I (or my family) be compensated from the vaccine manufacture or the Government?”
    Government: “NO – the government and vaccine manufactures have 100% zero liability regarding this experimental drug”
    So to summarize, the Covid19 “vaccine”…
    Does not provide immunity
    Does not eliminate the virus
    Does not prevent death
    Does not guarantee you won’t get it
    Does not stop you from passing it on to others
    Does not eliminate the need for travel bans
    Does not eliminate the need for business closures
    Does not eliminate the need for lockdowns
    Does not eliminate the need for masking
    If after reading this you still decide to get the “vaccine”…GOOD LUCK & DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED

    And people who question this lunacy are called “crazy”.

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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


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.