After a three-day suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about blood clots, France resumed using it on March 19th, but with the recommendation that it should not be used on people aged under 55.
However by that point around 500,000 under-55s had already received the AstraZeneca vaccine, mostly health workers including Health Minister Olivier Véran, 40, who had his injection live on TV in an attempt to boost confidence in the vaccine campaign.
The medical regulator Haute autorité de santé (HAS) has therefore conducted a review and on Friday is set to publish a recommendation that in those cases, the second dose should be administered with a different type of mRNA vaccine, such as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which are both already being used in France.
The HAS is an advisory body so the final decision lies with the government, but the French government overwhelmingly follows its regulator’s advice.
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Véran, speaking on radio station RTL on Friday morning, said: “It will be confirmed today, it is totally logical.
“It is consistent to say: we do not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55. If you have received a first injection and you are under 55, you will receive a second injection of an mRNA vaccine.”
Jean-Daniel Lelièvre, head of the department of infectious diseases at Henri Mondor Hospital in Créteil and expert adviser to the HAS, told France Info: “In the end the decision was relatively simple.
“We know that a single dose of vaccine is not enough to ensure long-term immunity against Covid-19. So a decision had to be made about the vaccine administered for the second dose. It was therefore decided to use an mRNA vaccine.”
He added that the choice of the HAS comes after the opinion of the European Medicines Agency, “which considered that there was a very clear link” with the cases of thrombosis “and the AstraZeneca vaccine”.
He added that the use of two different vaccines against the same virus is not unprecedented, saying: “These techniques have been widely used with other vaccine strategies, notably against HIV or even Ebola. We know that it works very well. And it gives immune responses that are greater than when you use the same vaccine twice.”
People under 55 who have had one AstraZeneca dose and been given an appointment date for the second dose should attend as planned, unless contacted by their doctor or pharmacist to change the appointment. The second dose for people who have had AstraZeneca will continue to be given 12 weeks after the first dose.
People aged over 55 will continue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and those who have already had the first dose – including the 55-year-old Prime Minister Jean Castex – will get AstraZeneca for their second dose.
France currently has four vaccines licenced for use; Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna which are both licenced for use on all age groups, AstraZeneca which is used on people aged between 55 and 74 and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, deliveries of which are expected later this month and which is licenced for use on all age groups.
The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday said that there was a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, but concluded that the benefits still outweigh the risks.
The EMA continues to recommend the vaccine for all age groups, but several national medical regulators have limited its use on younger people, including the UK, where the medical regulator now says that under 30s should be offered a different vaccine.