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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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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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