IN NUMBERS: How many leftover doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine are there in France?

After reports over the weekend that a vaccine centre in Nice had to close early because no-one was willing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine that was being offered, here is a breakdown of vaccine use in France.

IN NUMBERS: How many leftover doses of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine are there in France?
Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Local media reported that the large ‘vaccinedrome’ in the Palais des expositions in Nice closed its doors several hours early on Saturday as hardly anyone turned up, despite having 4,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine available.

Benoit Huber from the Alpes-Maritime préfecture told Nice Matin that just 58 people turned up in the morning, leading the centre to close in the early afternoon.

So is this an isolated incident or a wider problem in France?

Data on vaccine usage is not straightforward because France gets weekly deliveries, not always on the same day, so usage rates appear to fluctuate throughout the week depending on the time since the most recent delivery.

However French newspaper Le Parisien has published a data breakdown showing a 74 percent usage rate for AstraZeneca, compared with 68 percent for Moderna and 92 percent for Pfizer BioN Tech. The rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine been paused in Europe by the manufacturer.

The Health Ministry’s most recent figures are 93 percent usage for Pfizer and 74 percent for AstraZeneca and Moderna. 

Pfizer is by far the most widely-used vaccine, but it has also been delivered in the largest numbers. Overall, France has greatly increased the usage rate of vaccines since the early days of the programme when millions of doses appeared to be sitting unused – an issue that was blamed on an over-complicated supply system.

Doctor Luc Duquesnel, who coordinates vaccine centres in the Mayenne département, told Le Parisien: “We’re not going to hide it, we’re struggling.”

While François Bricaire, who is involved with the vaccine programme in Paris, added: “Pfizer, it will take five minutes to fill in the questionnaire. But for AstraZeneca, you have to take the time to explain, to convince… Some people agree, others don’t want it. Already it had not been given good press and is less effective against variants, and the blood clot link was the final straw.”

People in France are not given a choice of vaccines when they book their appointment.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal acknowledged on Monday: “We have a lot of work to do to restore confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

However some have pointed to other factors to explain the lower uses of AstraZeneca, primarily the fact that it is not available to all.

Following fears over links to blood clots in younger people, France changed its guidance on AstraZeneca, so that it is now used only on people aged between 55 and 74, while Pfizer and Moderna can be used on all age groups.

Under 55s who have previously had a first dose of AstraZeneca will receive a different vaccine for their second dose.

With the opening of larger ‘vaccinedrome’ sites and drive-in centres the type of vaccine used is more varied, but AstraZeneca is more widely used by family doctors and pharmacies, who are more likely to have logistical and storage issues than the large vaccine centres.

The issue with Moderna’s usage seems harder to explain, as it has not suffered from the image problems associated with AstraZeneca and is of the same vaccine type as Pfizer.

France has received relatively small quantities of Moderna, meaning it has not played a major part in the vaccination drive so far, leading infectious diseases expert Benjamin Davido to suggest that it suffers from a lack of ‘brand recognition’: “There is a feeling that there is confusion and that people only want Pfizer. Nobody talks about Moderna, which is lumped in with AstraZeneca.”

Luc Duquesnel suggested that the low numbers of Moderna vaccine cause logistical problems with some doses having to be kept to supply second doses for patients. 

The Moderna vaccine’s use may pick up once its use it expanded to pharmacies – expected from June after a trial in the Moselle area – and it could also be used to give second doses to the under 55s, who got AstraZeneca for their first injection – an estimated 500,000 people, mostly health workers.

Still the most common complaint on the ground in France is not being able to find a vacant appointment slot, even for those in eligible groups.

Several websites have been set up aimed at helping people to find appointments in their area, and after the news broke of the closed vaccine centre in Nice, many people commented on social media that they wished they had known there were doses going spare – they would have snapped them up.

READ ALSO How to sign up for ‘spare’ doses of the Covid vaccine in France   

Since opening at the start of April, the Nice vaccinedrome has been vaccinating up to 5,000 people a day.

In total, 12.5 million people have had at least one dose of the vaccine and the government’s next target it to have 20 million people vaccinated by mid May. 

Member comments

  1. So the government is only giving astrazenica to people between 55 and 74 – this week. So what happens when the people between 55 and 74 that are offered it refuse it, are they going to throw it away rather than give it to some of the millions of under-50s (like me) who have no chance of getting vaccinated otherwise between now and July/August and who would gladly take it now and take the risk? And what happens in a week or two’s time, when they change their minds again and they’ve already thrown away all these doses?

    1. Sign up for ‘covidliste’, at least that way you have a sporting chance of getting one of the left over doses.

      1. Yeah, but the fact that covidliste was set up by a third party without any input or interest by the government says a lot about how flexible the government’s plans are here…

  2. I agree, compared to countries like Israel and the UK, the vaccine rollout in France (and much of the EU) is a complete mess.

    I have not yet had the first dose here in France, but both my brothers and their wives, who are all younger than me, have had both doses back in the UK and none of us is in a priority group in either country.

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.