Final preparations underway for Covid vaccination in France
The first Covid vaccinations in France are scheduled to start this Sunday in elderly care homes, but there are still some steps before it can happen
Final preparations are being made to begin the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign in France on December 27.
Health minister Olivier Véran has said that vaccination will begin in two or three elderly care homes this Sunday, with tens of residents expected to be vaccinated.
The health minister and regional health services have not yet confirmed the locations of the care homes where the first vaccinations will take place.
And before this can happen, there are still protocols to be completed.
French regulation expected today
European health bodies have already approved the vaccine for use, but French health body la Haute autorité de Santé (HAS) will release a scientific assessment of the vaccine today.
The assessment will detail the HAS’ conclusions on points such as whether the vaccine can protect against transmission of the virus or not, potential risks of the vaccine and how to store doses.
The HAS produces such assessments for all vaccines used in France.
Safety checks in laboratories
Before the vaccine can officially be released, it must go through a final test organised by European laboratories, in addition to tests already run by manufacturers.
In this instance, tests are being run in German laboratories in the Paul-Ehrlich institute. If tests go well – as expected - the laboratory will validate the vaccines with a certificate which can be used throughout Europe.
Transport and storage procedures
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which will be used in France must be stored at -70C, adding an extra logistical challenge to storage and transportation.
But government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on Monday this week: “The logistics chain is operational and vaccination can begin at the end of the week.”
The first step in the supply chain is a Pfizer production site in Belgium and BioNTech production site in Germany. Pfizer has said that doses of the vaccine will be transported from the laboratory in isothermal containers which can maintain a steady temperature for 10-30 days.
Mr Véran has said that doses of the vaccine will be transported to around 100 sites – roughly one in each department in France - with dedicated cold storage facilities, including hospitals.
Security measures in place
A confidential document sent to local health agencies and prefectures was revealed to news source Le Journal du Dimanche this week. In it, authorities said the state was prepared to protect the vaccines against “malicious acts (damage, theft, cyber-attacks) from militant anti-vax activists, and terrorists”.
As such, trucks delivering the vaccines will be accompanied by undercover police convoys and drones. The routes they will take have been given to regional health authorities in advance so they can track deliveries and ensure that journeys are completed without stops, and during low-traffic hours where possible.
Storage sites have also reinforced anti-intruder technology and security measures, as well as installing electricity backup supplies to ensure that the low temperature needed for storing the vaccines can be maintained in all circumstances.