Everyone in France can now receive a new booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine if they so wish, the health ministry announced yesterday (December 13).
It comes amid shortages of several medicines including a common antibiotic and masks being recommended again.
The statement officially confirms a comment from Health Minister François Braun on Friday (December 9) that a fourth dose is open to anyone who wants it, with no conditions.
Until now only vulnerable people or those aged 60 and over were eligible for a fourth dose. The vaccination campaign in France has been stalling, with few eligible people taking up the latest booster.
The government’s messaging before the new statement had led to some confusion especially in pharmacies.
GP union MG France’s Jean-Claude Nogrette said several individuals had visited pharmacies to get a jab despite not being in the ‘vulnerable’ priority group, and despite the campaign not being open to them. They were therefore turned away.
It had also been reported that anyone outside of the priority group would need a prescription from a GP to get a booster.
These conditions have now been removed. Pharmacists will now be able to issue vaccinations to those who ask, even if they are not in a priority group.
Vulnerable people still urged to get vaccinated
However, the government is still insisting that those in priority groups should make an even greater effort to get another vaccination as soon as possible.
The list comprises:
People aged 60 or over;
Care home residents, regardless of age;
Immunocompromised persons, regardless of age;
People suffering from one or more underlying, high-risk conditions, regardless of age;
Pregnant women from the first trimester of pregnancy;
Professionals in the health and medical-social sectors;
People living with or in regular contact with vulnerable people.
The ninth wave of the virus is spreading in the country, putting extra pressure on hospitals amid epidemics of flu and bronchiolitis.
A booster can be given from six months after the last dose. For those who have had Covid recently, a booster is recommended from three months after the infection, and at least six months after their last dose.
Covid the third cause of death in France in 2020
As the epidemic continues, newly-released figures show that Covid was the third-highest cause of death in France in 2020, at 10.4%. This compares to 25.6% for tumours, and 20.2% for cardio-neurovascular illnesses.
The figures come from analysis by statistics research centre la Direction de la recherche, des études et de l’évaluation des statistiques (DREES) and the epidemiologist centre Centre d’épidémiologie des causes médicales de décès de l'Inserm (CépiDc-Inserm).
The results were published on December 13.
During 2020, 69,000 people died from Covid in France. It was especially deadly among the most vulnerable groups with half of all the victims aged 85 or over.
And while tumours and cardiovascular illnesses were still the leading causes of death, their mortality rate dropped compared to the period 2015-2017.
The report stated: “Compared to 2015-2017, mortality from tumours, cardio-neurovascular diseases, nervous system diseases, and mental and behavioural disorders decreased, especially among those aged 85 years or older.”
It said that this could have been because some of those who may have died of these issues in normal years died of Covid instead.
It also added that “prevention measures due to the management of the health crisis may have had a protective effect…this partly explains the observed drop in mortality of respiratory infections [outside of Covid], and transport accidents”.
Masks recommended again, medicine shortages
The health minister this week advised people to wear masks again in enclosed public spaces and on public transport, especially as there continues to be a shortage of the painkiller paracetamol and the antibiotic amoxicillin.
Wearing a mask can not only protect you from Covid but also from other winter illnesses, he said.
Mr Braun said that he would not hesitate to make mask-wearing mandatory again “if the situation demands it”. In the meantime, he said that this was not necessary, but called on everyone to get a booster jab against Covid.
The paracetamol shortage, which has been ongoing for two months, should soon be sorted, he said. The shortage was due to social action at the Sanofi manufacturing plant, he said.
Amoxicillin is still in short supply, especially as it had been “excessively” prescribed against the backdrop of growing epidemics of flu and bronchiolitis, he said. He added that the supply in France had also been affected by the “global” shortage due to a worldwide lack of production.
He warned people against taking antibiotics when not 100% necessary due to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. This is linked to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in France per year.