‘Cancer patients should also be priority for Covid vaccine’

The president of a French cancer institute says that his staff are ready to vaccinate their patients but have been left in the dark by the government’s centralised and overly bureaucratic roll-out

7 January 2021
Roland Sicard, president of the Institut Sainte Catherine, a cancer hospital in Avignon, says the government should call on medical networks to speed up the roll-out of the Covid vaccine
By Thomas Brent

The government’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy should prioritise people who are vulnerable through illness as well as those in retirement homes, said the president of the Institut Sainte Catherine, a cancer hospital in Avignon. 

Roland Sicard told The Connexion that the government should call on the help of medical networks around the country to vaccinate their patients, speeding up the roll-out. 

France began its vaccination campaign against Covid-19 on December 27, prioritising residents of retirement homes and the staff there. So far, 19,500 people have been vaccinated. 

Easy-look guide to France’s Covid-19 vaccination roll-out

“I share the strategy of the government. We need to prioritise vaccinating the elderly and the vulnerable, but I would add all the ill people, who are perhaps younger and not in care homes, but are still vulnerable,” Mr Sicard said.

“It is those people who are dying every day. It is completely legitimate and humane that we prioritise these people who pay the biggest price of Covid, their lives.”

This should include not just people in retirement homes but also people in hospitals, those under the care of specialists, those with cancer or serious forms of diabetes, he said.

“They need the vaccine too and to do that the government needs to rely upon the network of doctors who take care of these patients on a daily basis.”

“We have a doctor’s network that covers the whole territory, we have a network of pharmacies who can contribute, we have a hospital network which could play a role, we have a network of biologists who could carry out tests and observe the results of the vaccine,” he said.

“All these networks are in place. We need to mobilise them now and quickly.”

He said that he expected the government to call upon health professionals to administer the vaccine, as they do every year for the seasonal flu jab, but that his hospital has been left in the dark by the government’s centralised approach.

“We still do not have any news regarding the organisation or the logistics about this.”

“Ideally, by the end of June, we will have vaccinated 30 million people. To do that we would need to vaccinate 150,000 people per day, or five million every month roughly. We are far from that,” he said. 

He also criticised the burdensome administrative process involved in the vaccination campaign. 

The French government announced a four-step plan for administering the vaccine: pre-vaccine consultation; consent; vaccination; medical follow-up.

The consultation must take place at least five days before the vaccination in order to find out how many doses are required at an establishment where it is being administered. 

Why France’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out has started slowly

“We have added administrative complexities that do not help things go quickly and efficiently,” Mr Sicard said. 

He acknowledged that consent is required for all treatments in France, whether it is for cancer or vaccines, but that the process did not need to take so long.  

One reason for the lengthy process is thought to be to combat the high rate of vaccine scepticism in France. 

A survey commissioned by BFMTV in December, 2020, found that 49% of the 1,005 people polled said they would refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccination in France. 

But Mr Sicard said he thinks the scepticism will diminish soon. He said that this winter, three times more staff members at his hospital decided to get the seasonal flu jab compared to last year. 

“Very few of our staff are sceptical of the vaccine,” he said.

“For the patients, it has been over nine months that we are telling them to remain isolated at home, don’t go out, don’t go shopping, don’t see your family…

“These people have been basically imprisoned for nine months with no quality of life. They are permanently at risk of dying from Covid. So for them the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel. 

“Obviously they are looking for assurances from their doctors, but they are mostly awaiting the benefits that the vaccine can bring.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex and Olivier Véran are to hold a press conference tonight (January 7), where it is thought they will announce new measures to speed up the vaccination roll-out. 

“To go quicker we need to rapidly decentralise the organisation of the vaccine roll-out, mobilising the help of all the health professionals,” Mr Sicard said. 

“I hope that the decision the government announces tonight is to do this.”

Read more:

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French health workers remain sceptical of Covid vaccine

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