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‘Serious malfunctions’ at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult

A criminal investigation is set to begin into the Marseille research unit headed by controversial scientist Didier Raoult, after a report found "serious malfunctions".

'Serious malfunctions' at French research unit headed by Didier Raoult
Didier Raoult. (Photo: Christophe Simon / AFP)

The findings of the joint investigation into the IHU at Marseille by the Inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS) and the  l’Inspection générale de l’éducation, du sport et de la recherche (IGESR) prompted Health Minister François Braun and Research Minister Sylvie Retailleau to refer the unit to the city’s public prosecutor, urging it to investigate “serious malfunctions” at the institution.

Raoult was head of the unit from its foundation in 2011 until his retirement this summer.

The controversial microbiologist gained significant worldwide attention during the Covid-19 pandemic for his vociferous promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite a lack of evidence on its effectiveness.

READ ALSO Five minutes to understand: Whatever happened to French professor Didier Raoult?

He was succeeded as director by Pierre-Edouard Fournier.

The ministers said that a number of issues highlighted in the latest report are “likely to constitute offences or serious breaches of health or research regulations”.

Fournier, and the institute’s seven founding members – including the University of Aix-Marseille, Assistance Publique-Hospitals de Marseille, the Research Institute for Development or the army health service – will now be summoned by their supervisory bodies to “implement a proactive action plan as soon as possible” which “will condition the continuation of the activity of the IHU-MI and its funding by the State”, according to the joint communiqué of the ministers.

The IHU was already under judicial investigation for “forgery in writing”, “use of forgery in writing”, and “interventional research involving a human person not justified by his usual care without obtaining the opinion of the committee for the protection of persons and the authorisation of the Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé (ANSM),” the Marseille prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

In an earlier report, the ANSM had noted “serious breaches of the regulations for research involving humans”, during some clinical trials.

READ ALSO Maverick French Covid doctor reprimanded over ‘breaches’ in clinical trials

François Crémieux, the director of Marseille public hospitals, told local newspaper La Provence on Tuesday that the establishment “shares the observation of managerial excesses of certain hospital-university managers occupying key functions within the infectious diseases division”.

“The legitimacy of the IHU has been affected. It has lost its scientific credibility. It must now be regained. 800 highly skilled professionals work there every day,” he added.

Raoult bit back at the report in a tweet, saying: “I regret that the IGAS/IGAENR mission does not take into account the detailed legal and scientific response that I have provided”.

Separately, Raoult will be in court on Friday as his defamation case against Karine Lacombe, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sorbonne University Faculty of Medicine, comes before judges.

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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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