Covid vaccine to arrive in French pharmacies by March 15th

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday said 50-74-year-olds will be able to be vaccinated for Covid-19 in pharmacies starting from March 15th, promising a swift acceleration of the vaccination campaign this spring.

Covid vaccine to arrive in French pharmacies by March 15th
Photo: Loic VENANCE / AFP

“People over 50 with underlying health issues will be able to get vaccinated at the pharmacy from the week of March 15th, once we have received our next delivery of AstraZeneca doses,” the prime minister said, speaking at the weekly press conference where he and the health minister gave the latest update on the Covid-19 health situation and extended the weekend lockdown.

A decree giving fuller details on the pharmacy rollout will be published on Friday, Castex added.

Those concerned are 50-74-year-olds with underlying health issues including diabetes, hypertension or a BMI or 30 or above. They are already eligible for the vaccine via their GP, but from March 15th pharmacies can also give the jab. They will be using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

France’s two other licensed vaccines, Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna, are reserved the first priority groups of over 75s and Ehpad nursing home residents and staff.

The French government wants to further speed up its initially sluggish vaccination campaign, and including pharmacies in the process will be paramount to achieve a mass-vaccination.

France has a vast network of pharmacies which have already been involved in the successful rollout of the seasonal flu vaccine, but until now the Covid vaccine has only been available in specialist vaccine centres, hospitals and GP surgeries.

The goal is to vaccinate 10 million people by mid April, 20 million by mid May and 30 million before the summer, the prime minister said.

Graphic: French government

France has a strict priority scheme for the Covid vaccine. At present only certain groups are eligible for vaccines. They are

  • Over 75s and people with serious medical conditions including cancer and transplant patients – these groups are vaccinated in vaccine centres
  • Healthcare workers, emergency workers and domestic and home helps working with vulnerable people – their vaccination is arranged through employers
  • People aged 50-74 with a health condition including diabetes, hypertension or a BMI of 30 or above – these vaccinations are arranged through GPs or, from March 15th, pharmacies

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

The French medical regulator the Haute Autorité de Santé on Tuesday recommended that France’s Covid-19 vaccination programme be extended to pharmacies, and agreed that pharmacists and midwives could give the injection, in addition to doctors and nurses.

HAS president Dominique Le Guludec, speaking at a press conference, said that the aim should be to “diversify the profile of vaccinators, increase the number of vaccination sites and, ultimately, to simplify the vaccination process” saying that “vaccination by pharmacists will make the vaccination process smoother and faster”.

In the same opinion, the HAS also approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use on all under 75s, previously it had only been approved for use in France on under 65s.

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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.