French health authority recommends Covid self-tests for children

France's top health authority says that self-tests are safe to use on children as well as adults and has called for a mass-rollout in schools to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

French health authority recommends Covid self-tests for children
A boy adjusts his protective face mask before entering his school in Paris, as primary schools and kindergartens reopen in France on April 26th. Photo: Thomas SAMSON / AFP

The Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) said the quick self-tests, authorised in France for over-15s in March and sold in pharmacies, had showed “encouraging results among children”, in an opinion published on Monday.

The tests, known as autotests in France, are rapid antigen tests, but simpler to use.

While the PCR test and regular antigen test that pharmacies and testing centres offer require inserting a long nasal swab all the way up the nose, the self-test swabs are shorter and don’t need to be inserted so far into the nasal passage.

EXPLAINED: How France’s new Covid home-testing kits work

In March, HAS said the tests should only be used by people aged over 15 to due to a lack of evidence of benefits among children.

But new findings led to the national health body revising that advice, saying the tests were “relevant to crack down on transmission chains, particularly in schools.”

It recommended scrapping the current age limit and roll out “large-scale testing” with the self-tests in all infant, primary and secondary schools in addition to universities. There is already widespread testing in schools with saliva tests also used for younger pupils.

France on Monday reopened primary schools after the Easter holiday period, which the government rescheduled in an attempt to curb the country’s still high Covid rates. Secondary schools and high schools (collèges and lycées) have one more week of distance learning before returning to class on May 3rd.

Keeping schools open has been outlined as a main goal for President Emmanuel Macron’s government, and tracing spread in its educational establishments will be key in order to maintain that goal whilst avoiding a new flare-up in Covid cases.

The government last week confirmed plans to begin reopening non-essential shops and cultural sites “from mid-May” and ease some Covid restrictions such as the current 10 km rule limiting non-essential travel.

READ ALSO: Calendar – When shops, bars, museums and others can reopen in France

France’s weekly average of daily Covid cases dropped down below 30,000 on Monday, continuing a descent that began early in April when the lockdown measures started having an effect.

But hospitals remained strained, with the number of intensive care unit patients exceeding 6,000 on a national level on Monday, the highest number registered since the first wave of the virus last spring.

In total some 14.1 million people had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by Sunday, according to the latest numbers, which meant 21.05 percent of the population had received at least one dose. 

The French government aims for 20 million total doses by mid-May and 30 million by mid-June. 

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Children under five eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in France

French health authorities have launched a campaign to vaccinate children under the age of five in certain high-risk groups against the Covid-19 virus.

Children under five eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in France

According to reporting by Le Parisien, France’s public health body (the DGS) sent a message out to health professionals on Thursday night informing them that they had launched the campaign for children under the age of five in certain risk categories to be vaccinated against the virus.

The French medical regulator (HAS) had previously recommended that certain groups of children in certain high-risk groups – such as those with serious illnesses or those living with an immunocompromised parent – be vaccinated from the age of six months.

Previously those children could be vaccinated in hospitals and specialised centres, but starting on Monday, January 23rd, children under the age of five who are eligible for vaccination against Covid-19 will be able to be vaccinated by a doctor, midwife or nurse.

READ MORE: Paxlovid and vaccines: The latest Covid advice from the French government

The HAS released a list of conditions that would make children under the age of five eligible for vaccination, including;

  • Liver disease
  • Heart and respiratory diseases (including severe asthma requiring continuous treatment)
  • Neurological diseases
  • Primary or drug-induced immunodeficiency
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hematologic malignancies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Trisomy 2
  • Children who live in the same environment as an immunocompromised person

France’s decision to authorise vaccination for certain young children came after several other countries, such as the United States did so.

According to L’Obs, babies “under one year old accounted for 70 percent of hospitalisations for children aged 0-17 years old and 84 percent of critical care admissions.”

When authorising children under five for vaccinations, the HAS noted that so far “no deaths, cases of myocarditis or pericarditis have been reported in the various studies conducted.”

How to vaccinate your child 

First, you must verify whether your child under the age of five is eligible for the vaccine by checking the list of high-risk groups above.

Next, you should consult your child’s doctor, as a prescription will be necessary for them to be vaccinated. 

Both parents must agree to the child being vaccinated by filling out the authorisation form HERE, according to the DGS. 

The vaccination schedule will differ for children under the age of five. They will be given a lower dose of the vaccine – specifically the Pfizer-BioNTech shot – and it will be delivered in three total injections, rather than two. 

The interval between the first two will be three weeks, and the interval between the second and third jabs will be at least eight weeks.

Even if the child has had Covid, “all three doses should be given, to ensure optimal protection,” the DGS told medical professionals, according to Le Parisien. However, if the child becomes sick with Covid-19 during the vaccination schedule, it can be revised so that there is an interval of at least three months from infection and vaccination.

According to the HAS, citing data from a clinical trial conducted in the first half of 2022, three doses of the vaccine was 80.3 percent effective against symptomatic infections “in all age groups from 6 months to 4 years with no history of infection.”

What about kids over the age 5?

All children aged five to 11 have been eligible for Covid-19 vaccination since December 2021 in France (children aged 11 and over were already eligible). Despite this eligibility, only about five percent of children in this group have been vaccinated, giving France one of the lowest levels of vaccination for young children in Europe. 

While Covid-19 represents a greater risk for older children and adults, according to L’Obs, severe illness and death can also occur in children. 

READ MORE: Can anybody in France now get the latest Covid booster vaccine?

As of January 20th, the French government still required that children aged five to 11 have both parents or guardians (if both have legal parental authority) provide authorisation prior to vaccination against Covid-19.

Prior to being vaccinated, there will be a pre-vaccination medical interview (on-site) where the medical professional will ensure that the child does not have any conditions, answer any questions the child or parents may have, and finally provide a prescription for the vaccination.