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COVID-19

France launches autumn Covid booster campaign with new dual-strain vaccine

From Monday the new dual-strain Covid vaccines are available in France, with those in high risk groups urged to get a second booster shot.

France launches autumn Covid booster campaign with new dual-strain vaccine
(Photo: Clement Mahoudeau / AFP)

Health minister François Braun has announced that the newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – designed to fight both the Omicron variant and the original Covid strains – are available for vulnerable people in France from Monday, October 3rd. 

Currently, the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants account for more than 95 percent of the confirmed cases in France, although experts are – as ever – cautious about the possibility of new variants emerging in the months to come.

Two so-called “bivalent” vaccines – one made by Pfizer and the other Moderna – that target both the original and omicron variants have been developed.

Both the European Medicines Agency and France’s national authority for health, the HAS (Haute autorité de santé)  have approved these new vaccines for use.

Specifically, this concerns 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.

People in high-risk groups have been eligible for a second Covid booster since the spring, but from Monday can get the dual-strain vaccine if they want to. People who have already had a second booster are not advised to get an extra shot of the dual-strain vaccine.

It is also planned to combine an autumn vaccine booster programme with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign, which begins October 18th. Full details on that here – Explained: France’s plan for autumn flu and Covid vaccine campaigns

Still under review by EMA is the “bivalent recombinant protein vaccine” which was developed by Spanish lab Hipra and reportedly confers protection against the BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron. It is intended as a booster dose for people aged 16 or over.

The European Commission announced in early August that it had signed a contract to acquire up to 250 million doses of this vaccine, once it is approved.

The second booster – a fourth dose for most people – of the Covid-19 vaccine is only available for certain groups of people.

In order to qualify, you must have received your first booster shot more than six months ago and be either:

  • Aged 60 or over
  • Aged 18-59 with a serious medical condition such as cancer patients, dialysis patients or transplant patients that puts you at high risk of developing the most serious forms of the virus
  • Aged 18-59 with a condition that puts you at higher risk of developing more serious forms of the virus. 
  • A pregnant woman
  • Either living with or in regular close contact with a person at high risk from the virus 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

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HEALTH

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

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

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

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

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.

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