Calls for Légion d’honneur for French data scientist who created Covid vaccine booking app

At just 25 years old, Guillaume Rozier is devising the most popular tools to emerge during France's Covid-19 pandemic - the data websites charting the costs of the crisis, and the easy-to-use app that helps people find vaccination appointments.

Calls for Légion d'honneur for French data scientist who created Covid vaccine booking app
French data scientist Guillaume Rozier. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

“I would never have imagined all the innovations, the creativity, that have their source in this data,” Rozier told AFP.

When The Local first interviewed Rozier in January, he was fast becoming the go-to source for simple, easy-to-understand graphics explaining the latest on the Covid situation in France.

His site and its siblings, now maintained with the help of an army of volunteers, have become essential reading, earning the praise of President Emmanuel Macron.

But it’s a more recent innovation that has earned him the undying gratitude of thousands – his vaccine appointment-finder site Vite Ma Dose (Quickly, my dose!).

Although the vaccine programme is opening up to more and more groups in France, finding an appointment near you is not always easy.

READ ALSO How to book a Covid vaccine in France

Vite Ma Dose scans all the various platforms offering appointments and presents users with a list of those nearest to them, based on their postcode.

And the site’s Twitter account is an endless stream of satisfied users with one message – Merci Guillaume

An MP in the ruling LREM party, François Jolivet, on Monday urged Health Minister Olivier Véran to present Rozier with the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest civil distinction.

Rozier is also credited with influencing the French government’s decision to open up any unbooked next-day slots to people from all age groups, from Wednesday.

Rozier got the idea to start putting France’s Covid numbers in context in March 2020, while finishing his engineering studies at the Telecom Nancy university in eastern France.

He was focusing in particular on artificial intelligence and the exploitation of Big Data, just as French officials were anxiously watching as coronavirus cases began to overwhelm neighbouring Italy.

To see if French cases were poised to soar as well, Rozier sought out mortality rates and Covid infection numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins university in the United States.

A graph comparing the two rates was unequivocal – despite a lag of a few weeks, France was going to face the same struggle as Italy.

Rozier shared his discoveries with friends and relatives, who began clamouring for daily updates as the pandemic worsened and France went into its first lockdown on March 17th.

So he created a website with charts that updated automatically and posted the link on Twitter, where demand for the virus data went viral.

Baptised Covidtracker, it quickly became a go-to source for the grim tolls on deaths and hospitalisations.

“It had 10 million unique visitors in April 2021,” Rozier said.

When France began its inoculation drive in January, he added Vaccinetracker, which soon made it clear that the campaign was getting off to a slow start compared with some European neighbours.

But securing official health ministry data wasn’t easy – Rozier warned he would shut down the vaccines site unless the data was made freely available, which officials eventually did.

“All data produced by an administration should be published quickly and thoroughly, and in a format that renders it easily accessible for automation,” he insisted.

As more people became eligible for getting a jab, Rozier rolled out Vite Ma Dose, which on Wednesday will be joined by his latest creation Chronodose.

Chronodose will let any adult search for unfilled vaccination appointments within the next 24 hour period, after Macron announced these would be open to any adult regardless of age or health condition in a bid to ensure no doses go to waste.

“Every day there are still several thousands of vaccination slots still available for the same day or the next,” Rozier said.

“You can imagine everything that data access could see develop, in health care but also the economy, transports, global warming or energy,” he added.

But while keeping on with Covidtracker, Rozier now has a day job – working for an IT consulting firm that is part of the US giant Accenture.

Member comments

  1. Légion d’honneur? Wow!
    I hope he didn’t have a hand in the Doctolib application. The poor woman at the reception when I had my vaccine was at her wits’ end because of the number of problems with it.

  2. It would be thoroughly deserved. Covid Tracker is brilliant, so clear and easy to understand and the speed of development of the apps is amazing.

  3. Thanks to The Local writing about this app plus the one where you can register for left-over doses, I have now had my second vaccination and my husband his first. Chapeau to the ladies from The Local!

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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.