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HEALTH

In Paris, monkeypox vaccination gains steam with volunteer help

Doctor Kevin Huy was vaccinating people in Paris against Covid-19 when he answered a call for volunteers to inoculate against a more recent global outbreak -- monkeypox.

In Paris, monkeypox vaccination gains steam with volunteer help
A man receives a dose of the Monkeypox vaccine at a vaccination centre in Paris on July 27, 2022.(Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / POOL / AFP)

Now, Doctor Kevin Huy is putting jabs in arms at Checkpoint Paris, a sexual health centre in the heart of the French capital dedicated to LGBT people.

Despite a shortage of people to administer shots, the vaccination campaign is gaining momentum in the Paris region, which has been the epicentre of France’s outbreak.

France has the fifth-highest number of monkeypox cases worldwide — nearly 2,000, the national health authorities said on Friday.

More than 95 percent of French monkeypox cases have been in men who have sex with men, a group that has been overwhelmingly affected the virus.

Before May, the virus was largely only seen in West and Central Africa.

But more than 18,000 monkeypox cases have been detected throughout the world outside Africa since, most of them in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.

On Monday, India reported the fourth death linked to the virus outside Africa. France’s neighbour Spain recorded two deaths over the weekend.

The rising cases have piled pressure on authorities to roll out doses of a smallpox vaccine that has been found to protect against monkeypox.

‘Hit hard by Covid’

Amelie Verdier, the head of the Paris regional health agency, told AFP that 25 new monkeypox vaccination centres had opened in the region including the capital since July 8 — including 18 in the city itself.

More than 8,000 injections had been administered in the region as of Friday, representing 70 percent of all vaccinations in France. Around 5,000 of those injections were carried out just last week.

While admitting that early logistical problems may have delayed the initial rollout, Verdier emphasised that there was now no problem in acquiring doses.

The issue has become finding people to put jabs in arms.

“Health professionals have been very hard hit by the Covid crisis,” she said.

Last week the French government said it would mobilise more people to help with vaccinations, including health students.

A lack of staff has meant Checkpoint Paris has not been able to meet the demand for monkeypox inoculations.

“We were able to bring in temporary doctors but it is more difficult to recruit nurses,” said the centre’s head, Sebastien Denglos.

Huy, a GP from the northern suburbs of Paris, was one of those doctors.

“I was already vaccinating against Covid in the 20th district of Paris, when I saw in a WhatsApp group that more people were needed for monkeypox,” he said.

The help was welcomed at the centre, which also fears it will struggle to administer the necessary second dose in time due to staffing shortages.

However French health authorities have indicated that the 28-day time limit between the first and second doses may be extended.

Another timeline is almost up — the great August evacuation from Paris for summer holidays.

Arnaud, 22, went to Checkpoint Paris on Thursday to make an appointment for a jab the following day.

“I didn’t want to stay isolated at home and spoil the little holiday I have,” he said.

Once he is vaccinated, he hopes “to be able to spend a summer in relative peace”.

The WHO has emphasised that vaccination will not give instant protection against monkeypox infection. That can take weeks.

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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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