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France pauses AstraZeneca vaccine rollout ahead of European regulator’s report

The European Medicines Agency will deliver its report on Thursday into the investigation of blood clots in patients who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and France will extend its 24-hour suspension of the vaccine until the report is delivered.

France pauses AstraZeneca vaccine rollout ahead of European regulator's report
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday afternoon that the country’s AstraZeneca vaccine programme would be paused after concerns were raised over side effects.

Speaking at a press conference in south west France, he said the suspension should be in place for just 24 hours, pending a new opinion from the European Medicines Agency on the safety of the vaccine.

However in a statement on Tuesday, the EMA said it would deliver the report of a group of experts on Thursday.

Emer Cooke, Director of the EMA, said that she had set up a group of experts to investigate each case of complications.

“We remain firmly convinced that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risk of these side effects,” she said.

“There is no evidence that the vaccine is responsible for these side effects,” Cooke said, pointing out that the 30 or so cases of thrombosis reported in Europe in recent days appear to be proportionally similar to the clotting problems seen in the placebo group (i.e. those who did not receive AstraZeneca) during the vaccine’s clinical trials.

Explaining that the EMA will be holding a number of meetings dedicated to this vaccine in the coming hours, Emer Cooke announced that the European Agency would be issuing its conclusions this Thursday, “in complete transparency”.

The director of the body concluded her speech by asking people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine “who think they may have side effects to report them to their doctor”.

A total of 14 European countries have now suspended use of the vaccine from the Anglo-Swedish company, including Sweden.

READ ALSO Which European countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Earlier on Monday, firefighters in the southern département of Buches-du-Rhône announced they would pause the staff vaccination programme after one firefighter was hospitalised with cardiac symptoms after receiving the vaccine.

Last week, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said that the benefits of the vaccine still outweighed the risks, saying that in Europe around 5 million people have received the AstraZeneca jab and there had been just 30 reports of blood clots, well within the normal range of reports within the general population.

AstraZeneca is only licensed for use on under 74-year-olds in France and has so far been administered only by GPs, while vaccine centres have used Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

French pharmacies are scheduled to begin vaccinating this week, and have already received large numbers of AstraZeneca doses.

Anyone who has an appointment at a vaccine centre in the coming days should go as normal, since vaccine centres use the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, but GP appointments on Wednesday and Thursday will likely be affected by the AstraZeneca suspension.

The World Health Organisation, the EMA and experts have stressed that no causal link has been established between the vaccine and blood clotting and insisted that the vaccine is safe.

On March 11th the European Medicines Agency (EMA) told AFP that information available so far indicated the risk of blood clots in those vaccinated against Covid-19 was “no higher than that seen in the general population.”

It also said that European countries could keep using the AstraZeneca vaccine while the issue was investigated, concluding that “the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks”.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “The risk and benefit balance is still very much in favour of the vaccine.”

Referrring to the suspensions he said: “This is a super-cautious approach based on some isolated reports in Europe.”

Member comments

  1. There are 5m EU citizens living in the UK. Is France instructing its ex-pats to refuse the vaccination ?

      1. Vaccination is a local responsibility. British government isn’t telling me which vaccine to use (I’m a British citizen living in France), and neither does French government for residents of any other country (even if they are French citizens).

        I don’t understand why are you even bringing this up in the first place?

  2. This statement is inaccurate: “AstraZeneca is only licensed for use on under 74-year-olds in France and has so far been administered only by GPs, while vaccine centres have used Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.” Rodez Hospital vaccine centre, for one, has been administering AstraZenica for several weeks.

  3. These are not vaccines, but experimental injectables. Why would anyone rake a “vaccine” that has been shown to promote blood clots? What if someone has a family history of blood clots? They don’t even guaranty to protect from Covid. This is why they are still promoting masks.

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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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