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HEALTH

Are there really 270,000 unclaimed appointments for Covid vaccinations in France?

The French media has flagged up thousands of spare appointments, but among those in eligible groups the biggest complaint is not being able to find an appointment slot.

Are there really 270,000 unclaimed appointments for Covid vaccinations in France?
Vaccine centres in France give thousands of doses a day. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Headlines about 270,000 unfilled vaccine appointments in France have prompted two questions from the many millions of people still waiting to be vaccinated – where are these slots and how can I find one?

“It is true that we have a number of appointments that are not being kept. According to the information I have, we should not exaggerate [their number],” prime minister Jean Castex said at on Wednesday.

“There are a certain number of large centres, especially the large metropolitan vaccination centres, which have vaccination slots that remain open,” health minister Olivier Véran also acknowledged on Tuesday.

How many free slots?

The 270,000 figure comes from the website Vite ma Dose ! (Quickly, my dose!) which was set up to help people struggling to find an appointment near them. It is essentially a search site that links to the various different platforms offering appointments and finds the nearest appointment slot based on the user’s postcode.

The site was set up in response to so many people who were eligible for a vaccine but reported finding it hard to book an appointment as there were no free slots near them.

READ ALSO How to sign up for spare vaccine doses in France

Its founder is Guillaume Rozier, the French data scientist behind the Covid Tracker site and he points out that there are some qualifications to the eye-catching 270,000 figure.

First these are available slots for the next 50 days (so until mid June) at centres around the country. There are now several thousand vaccine centres as well as 22,000 pharmacies offering jabs and some GPs, so that could amount to just one free appointment per centre.

Second the number of slots does not necessarily correspond with the number of doses available with, according to Rozier, GPs and pharmacies opening up many slots to be sure of finding patients and then closing them when the doses they have available are taken.

However even with these caveats, he adds that the free slots on the site have increased in recent days, from around 30,000 – 40,000 a fortnight to more like 150,000 to 250,000.

On average, France is now giving around 300,000 vaccines per day.

Deliveries

The increase in free slots corresponds with an increase in deliveries of vaccines to France, including the first part of the extra 7.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine supplied to the EU and the first deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

At the start of the French vaccine programme there was a marked trend of the country having many more doses than it was injecting, which was largely blamed on overly-complicated supply chains.

Since then, vaccine use has caught up with vaccine deliveries, but this may lag again if extra deliveries do not correspond to extra injections given.

The below chart shows deliveries in grey, with doses given in blue (light blue for first doses and dark blue for second doses).

There have also been problems on a local level such as the vaccine centre in Nice which closed early on a Saturday when no-one turned up, local officials say there had been issues in publicising the centre’s opening hours.

There are also reports of hesitancy around the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is now only given to over 55s in France.

Some vaccine centres say they struggle to persuade people to take the AstraZeneca doses but overall the use of AstraZeneca in France is around 75 percent of available doses – lower than Pfizer on 90 percent but comparable to Moderna.

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

The health ministry says that some of the ‘spare’ slots are made available at the last minute by centres which have received more doses than anticipated – they can appear to be unclaimed but in fact have only been available for a matter or hours or even minutes.

Eligibility

But reports of vacant slots have lead to calls for the government to allow the vaccine to be opened up to all.

“It’s becoming absurd to refuse vaccinations when there are vaccines available,” Jean-Paul Stahl, professor of infectious and tropical diseases at Grenoble University Hospital, told France Info.

“We had a first stage where the number of doses was limited, and where it was therefore logical to restrict vaccination to the populations most at risk. But now, we’re in the middle of a cumbersome administrative process that continues.

“We persist in sticking to these categories when some people in these categories do not want to be vaccinated, and there are others outside these categories who wish to be vaccinated.”

France has based the phases of its rollout on the risk of developing the most severe forms of Covid – so the highly vulnerable residents of Ehpad nursing homes were the first to become eligible, along with the staff who looked after them, followed gradually by other age groups, people with serious medical conditions and people at high risk of exposure to the virus such as health workers.

READ ALSO When will I be eligible for the Covid vaccine in France?

Of the groups who were eligible in the first stages of the rollout, according to health ministry figures

  • 100 percent of Ehpad residents have now had at least one dose
  • 70 percent of over 75s
  • 70 percent of health workers

For the entire population, 20 percent of people have received at least one dose, rising to 27 percent for the adult population.

And for the moment it seems like the government is sticking with a phased rollout, with health minister Olivier Véran’s call to people take up vaccine slots restricted to those in eligible groups.

There may, however, be an acceleration of the opening up to the next group, which is under 55s with no medical conditions, while Véran has also called on vaccine centres that have unused slots to call in people in younger age groups are subscribe to a platform such as Covid Liste which can send out alerts to people on spare appointments in their area.

Member comments

  1. I would have the AZ vaccine in a heartbeat. Impossible where I live (la Sarthe). Tried through various channels like Doctolib which asked me to confirm with the code which they sent me, only they didn’t.
    My expectations for French tech were already low so this didn’t surprise me that much.

  2. An anecdote.
    I secured confirmed vaccination at Chateau Gontier, about 1hr.45min drive from home. On arrival we were refused vaccination by the local fonctionnaires who said that they were only vaccinating people on local Dr’s lists only. Our printed Doctolib confirmed reservations were rudely ignored and we had to leave. It was a typically sour and nasty ‘fonctionnaire’ experience, dealing with a rude and aggressive people who won’t even listen to what you have to say. One week later via Doctolib I secured confirmed jabs at Poitiers about 1hr 30min drive. I asked the completely charming, polite and helpful staff who were working there and they said they were all volunteers. Incredibly, all spoke excellent English and were delighted to see us. In the huge arena (Poitiers Expo) there were twelve tents for vaccinating people. Only five were in use and the facility was at the most 40 % full. with more than ample parking and other facilities. I could not help but notice that amongst those being vaccinated there was not one single person of colour or of Arab features. Nonetheless we got our Pfizer jab and it all went amazingly smoothly. But there is no point in getting the vaccine if there are huge numbers who don’t get the jab.

  3. My wife and I had to book in different sites mine easily booked with DocoLib Civray Vaccination centre 20 minutes from home, however a couple of weeks later when my wife became eligible I ended up having to use the website “Vite ma Dose” and found doses available in Centre Clinical de Soyaux, Elsan (Angouléme) 1hr 10mins from home. both web sites on line easily used to reserve appointments when they have them ( make it quicker to reserve appointment register first with Doctolib, gets rid of annoying delays in unknown bits needed to reserve an appointment) and they remind you of your forthcoming appointment. – these vaccination centres get fully booked very quickly so speed is needed most times. – Found the volunteers and staff at both centres helpful, Kind and broken English spoken altogether a good feeling. – I have since just had my second dose with the same experience, my wife has to wait for her next in June, and now waits without fear of a bad experience

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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