Tourists and visitors will need booster to use French health pass

The French health pass - essential to access a wide of range of venues including bars, museums and for long-distance train travel - requires a vaccine booster shot to stay activated. The health ministry has confirmed to us that this rule also applies to tourists and visitors.

Strasbourg Christmas market health pass sign
The health pass is required to access a wide range if venues in France. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

France’s health pass has been in place since the summer, but now the country has begun deactivating the passes of people who are eligible for a booster but have not yet had one.

When this policy was first announced in November it referred only to people vaccinated in France.

However this has now been expanded to those who received their vaccines elsewhere and the Health Ministry has confirmed to The Local that everyone – including tourists and visitors to France – will need a booster in order to get a health pass or keep their existing pass activated.

Passes are deactivated if seven months has passed since the person received their second vaccine dose and they have not received a booster shot, although this limit will soon be cut to four months. Deactivations have already begun for people aged 65 and over, and from January 15th will be expanded to those aged between 18 and 65.

READ ALSO Calendar: When will my French health pass deactivate?

So what about those vaccinated outside France – either tourists and visitors or those who received their vaccine in a different country and then moved to France?

The same rules apply, the French health ministry has confirmed.

They told The Local: “Since December 15th 2021, all people aged 65 and over and those vaccinated with the Janssen vaccine must have received a booster dose no more than 7 months after their last injection (2 months for people vaccinated with Janssen), to benefit from a valid health pass.

“Foreigners who are eligible for the booster and have not had it will have to take a test and pay for the test, which is valid for 24 hours, in order to benefit from the health pass.”

It should be noted, however, that the government is debating replacing the health pass with a vaccine pass, which would have no testing for option for those are not considered fully vaccinated, including booster.

The ministry added that the booster requirement “concerns only the domestic health pass and not the border pass.”

“In other words, a booster is not yet required to leave or return to France.”

The majority of EU and Schengen zone countries, as well as the UK, are offering booster shots on a similar timetable to France, and proof of vaccination or a booster shot in an EU/Schengen zone country and the UK can be uploaded directly to the French Tous Anti Covid app, which contains the health pass.

If you are using the app, you will get a warning when your pass is about to deactivate.

Paper certificates of vaccination from these countries are also accepted.

However, those vaccinated outside the EU need to swap their vaccination certificate for a French QR code (known as a certificate of vaccine equivalence) before they can use the health pass – find out how HERE.

These codes will now only be given to people who have also had a booster when eligible.

The Ministry told us: “Since December 15th 2021, people aged 65 and over who completed their initial vaccination schedule more than 7 months ago must provide proof of a booster dose in order to be eligible for the generation of a certificate of vaccine equivalence. This also applies to persons 18 years and older who were vaccinated with Janssen more than 2 months ago.”

For those vaccinated in the UK there is an extra wrinkle – NHS vaccination codes are only valid for 30 days and since the deactivation programme began, the Tous Anti Covid app also deactivates expired NHS codes, meaning that those vaccinated in the UK must download a new NHS code every 30 days and add it to the French app in order to keep their pass working.

If your pass is deactivated, here’s how to reactivate it.

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Reader Question: Can I specify the dual-strain vaccine when getting my Covid booster in France?

At-risk populations in France are eligible for a second Covid-19 booster shot, but many are asking whether it is possible to specifically request one of the new dual-strain vaccines when booking.

Reader Question: Can I specify the dual-strain vaccine when getting my Covid booster in France?

Question: I am qualified, by age and by time elapsed since my first Covid booster, for a fourth shot. But I want to make sure that my fourth shot will be one of the new dual-strain vaccines. Is this possible?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd, which includes newly authorised bivalent (dual-strain) vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

France’s health authority, the Haut Autorité de Santé said in a press release on September 20th that “the expected clinical efficacy of these new dual-strain vaccines is at least equivalent or even superior to that of the original vaccines.”

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

So is it possible to specify when booking that you want the dual-strain vaccine?

The Local spoke with representatives from the French ministry of health, who specified on Friday that “dual-strain (bivalent) vaccines will be injected as a priority during the autumn campaign in accordance with the HAS recommendations.”

For those who are eligible to renew their booster dose, it is therefore “not necessary to specify that they want a bivalent vaccine, since we will have enough doses for the entire target audience.”

France’s General Health Directorate told the Journal des Femmes that the two most commonly used vaccines for its fall campaign are “the Comirnaty Original/Omicron BA.4-5 vaccine (by Pfizer) and the Spikevax bivalent Original/ Omicron BA.1 vaccine (by Moderna).”

Data for the last two weeks show that of the 112,409 people in France who received a second booster dose, 77,715 were vaccinated with the new Pfizer dual-strain vaccine, and 34,694 were vaccinated with the new Moderna Omicron-adapted product – meaning that everyone got a dual-strain vaccine.

You can find the whole list of those who are eligible for a second (or third) booster HERE.

READ MORE: Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

Additionally, health authorities have been recommending that anyone who is eligible should receive their booster shot. 

Before the dual-strain vaccines were authorised, French health authorities recommended at-risk groups to receive booster vaccines as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the availability of the Omicron-adapted jabs.

“For people at risk, either the elderly or those with co-morbidities, it is necessary to give the fourth dose as long as the virus is circulating, and therefore as of now,” infectious diseases specialist Anne-Claude Crémieux told Le Parisien over the summer.

Crémieux added that vaccines not-adapted to Omicron subvariants have also “been proven to be effective against severe forms of the disease”.

If you have already had a booster with the original vaccine and now want an additional dual-strain booster this is possible, although you must wait either thee months (if you are over 80 or the resident of a nursing home) or six months (for other at-risk groups) after your most recent booster.

Additionally, TF1 reported on Friday that Santé publique France (France’s public health agency) was calling for an intensification of the ongoing vaccine campaign, because only 30.4 percent of 60-79 year olds had received their second booster dose as of October 10th, and only 37.7 percent of over 80s – the group most vulnerable to severe forms of Covid-19 – had received their new booster. 

France is currently seeing a continued rise in cases amid the eighth wave of Covid-19, and the number of new positive cases rose by 13 percent in one week, as of October 11th.

Santé publique France referenced this during its weekly bulletin, saying that “the circulation of Covid-19 – and hospital admissions – continue to increase throughout metropolitan France.”

“Given the current situation and the diminished adoption of preventive measures, vaccination must be reinforced, in particular by a booster with a bivalent vaccine,” the agency wrote.