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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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.