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COVID-19

New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts
(Photo: Loic Venance / AFP)

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees. 

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HEALTH

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.

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