France authorises AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for over 65s

France is to open up its AstraZeneca vaccine programme for people aged 65-74, after previously only licensing it for use on under 65s due to concerns about a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.

France authorises AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for over 65s
Photo: Fred SCHEIBER / AFP

Health Minister Olivier Véran announced on Monday night that people aged between 65 and 74 with an underlying health condition can now access the AstraZeneca vaccine through their médecin traitant – registered GP.

This scheme was already open to 50-64-year-olds with serious underlying health issues and healthcare workers, but will now be expanded as restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine are lifted. 

“From now on, everyone aged over 50, and who suffers from underlying health conditions – diabetes, hypertension, cancer – can get vaccinated with AstraZeneca . . . including those aged between 65 and 75 years old,” the health minister told France 2 on Monday evening.

The Haute autorité de santé (HAS) – France’s highest advisory health authority – on Tuesday revised its opinion on the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying its previous recommendation to only offer it to those aged between 18 and 65 was due to a lack of data and that the injection “can now be extended to people over 65.”

The Covid vaccines were so far available to over 75s at vaccine centres, while 50-64-year-olds with underlying health conditions could access the AstraZeneca injection through their registered GP. This policy lead to critics accusing the government of forgetting 65-74-year-olds in the vaccine rollout.

Véran, who last week said 65-74-year-olds would gain access “by April”, now said they could either contact their registered GP to get the vaccine or the hospital if they are under treatment there.

“In a few days” the AstraZeneca injection would also be available to them in pharmacies, Véran said.

READ ALSO: How to book an appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine in France

France has so far three vaccines: AstraZeneca, Pzifer BioNTech and Moderna, but only Pzifer and Moderna have been authorised for all age groups. Medical regulators in France, along with countries including Germany, Sweden and Poland, initially considered that there was not enough data on its effectiveness to authorise it for over 65s.

Since that decision in early February, several new studies have been published.

“The Haute autorité de santé now considers that all the vaccines available to us in France have an effectiveness described as ‘remarkable’, to protect people from severe forms of Covid,” Véran said.

Last week a study found that the AstraZeneca vaccine efficiently protects people over 65 against the virus, following weeks of doubts that led to countries struggling to convince people to get the injections.

READ ALSO: ‘Deeply unfair’: France and Germany struggle to sell AstraZeneca vaccine safety

UK scientists said last week they had found that the vaccine was effective even for over 80-year-olds.

This contradicted previous beliefs that saw President Emmanuel Macron describe the AstraZeneca vaccine as “quasi-ineffective for people over 65”.

Over 75s will however still receive the Pfizer or Moderna injections in vaccination centres, Véran said, adding that those who had already had the virus would only need one injection of these vaccines.

Véran said the new rules would give 2.5 million people access to the Covid vaccine, “roughly a third of people” in the 65-74 age group.

Underlying health issues includes diabetes, hypertension or a BMI of 30 or above. You can find the full list of eligible conditions HERE.

Due to the age restriction France has accumulated AstraZeneca stocks, and has only used 24 percent of the 1.1 million doses received, according to the health ministry. The loosening of the rules will allow for the pace to speed up the vaccination scheme.

“In March alone we will aim to offer a first vaccination to 6 million people,” the health minister said.

France had on February 27th injected 2,967,937 people in total (4.4 percent of its population), of which 1,582,433 have received their second dose and are therefore fully vaccinated (2.36 of the population), according to the latest data provided by the Health Ministry and published on the website VaccineTracker.

Sixty percent of the population needs to be vaccinated order to achieve herd immunity.

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Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

France has begun a trial in eight areas of a smartphone version of the 'carte vitale' - the card required to access the French public health system - with the eventual aim of rolling out the app across the country. Here's how it will work.

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

What is happening?

France is making changes to the carte vitale – the crucial card that allows residents of France to access the public health system. If you don’t have the card – here’s how to get it.

The new project involves replacing the physical card with a virtual one that is stored on your smartphone via an app.

The French government is beginning a pilot project in eight départements with the intention of expanding the system to cover the whole country in 2023.

The trial areas are; Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes and the trials are voluntary for people who want to sign up. 

How does it work?

At present, the app is only available to those living in the trial areas mentioned above, and it can only be used by people who are already registered in the French system and have a carte vitale. It is not an alternative to the current registration process. 

If you have a carte vitale, however, you can transfer it onto your phone, which saves you having to remember to carry your card around.

You first download the app MonCV and then begin the sign-up process. In order to do this you will need your current card and social security number and will also have to go through a series of security steps including uploading a scan of your passport or ID card and then making a ‘short film’ of your face in order to verify your identity. 

Once registered, you can then use it at the doctor, pharmacist, vaccine centre or any other situation in which you previously used your carte vitale. You will be able to either show a QR code to scan, or scan your phone using NFC technology (similar to Metro and train smartphone tickets, which works even if your phone is turned off or out of battery).

Can you still use a card version?

Yes. If you don’t own a smartphone or are just not a fan of apps you can continue to use the physical card with no changes.

What does this change for healthcare access?

It doesn’t change anything in terms of your access to healthcare or paying for it, but some extra functions are set to be added to the app once the scheme is rolled out nationwide.

The first one is to link up your carte vitale with your mutuelle (complementary insurance) if you have it, so you don’t need to show extra proof from your insurance company in order to get full reimbursement.

The second is to add a ‘trusted person’ to your carte vitale, allowing them to use your card to, for example, pick up a prescription for you or to allow grandparents to take children to medical appointments (normally children are included on their parents’ card). 

Is this replacing the biometric carte vitale? 

You might remember talk earlier this year of a ‘biometric’ carte vitale, in which people would have to register biometric details such as their fingerprints in order to keep using their carte vitale.

This seems to have now been kicked into the long grass – it was a parliamentary amendment to a bill proposed by the centre-right Les Républicains party and was intended to combat prescription fraud.

Experts within the sector say that the costs and inconvenience of making everyone register their biometric details and get a new card far outweigh the costs of prescription fraud and the idea seems to have been put on the back burner for now.