France condemns Covid vaccine queue-jumping claims

The health minister said claims of queue-jumping at a private hospital were regrettable, as he continued to give updates on the vaccine campaign and stated his confidence in the AstraZeneca jab

9 February 2021
By Hannah Thompson

France’s health minister has condemned claims of “vaccine queue-jumping” among board members and financial donors of a private hospital in Paris, as he continued to give updates on the vaccination roll-out.

Health Minister Olivier Véran was speaking on news channel FranceInfo this morning.

FranceInfo claimed it had information that doses “reserved” for healthcare workers - including those treating Covid-19 patients - at the American Hospital of Paris had in fact been given to around 20 members of the Board of Governors, and several of the hospital’s financial donors, despite not being considered priority or high-risk individuals.

In response to the allegations, Mr Véran said: “I can tell you that as soon as I finish this interview, I will contact the hospital to get more information, first to confirm the facts or not, and if this is true, I condemn it.

“The prioritisation is very clear in our country. We protect the most fragile, in order of priority, no matter where you are geographically, or your social status. I will not accept that there are queue-jumpers, and if it’s true, it’s regrettable, and I will say that to those concerned.”

American Hospital claims

The American Hospital of Paris is a French-American private hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

It is financed entirely from donations, and has many international board members, including heads of industry, bankers, lawyers, and diplomats from countries including France, the US, and Japan.

FranceInfo reported that an honorary governor and former board member at the hospital, Bruno Durieux, 76, said: “I was called to get my vaccination at the American Hospital on January 14.

"I have just had my second dose at the beginning of February. All the governors were invited to have it.”

Further sources claimed that as well as board members and donors, members of their family had also been invited for vaccination with the first Pfizer doses, in apparent contradiction of the rules set by health authority la Haute autorité de santé (HAS).

Yet, the hospital’s own website states that its health workers and priority staff aged 50 and over, or with particular risks are being vaccinated first.

In a statement to FranceInfo, the hospital said that it was vaccinating “all voluntary and eligible persons working in the hospital (doctors, carers, administrative staff, governors, housekeeping, security and catering providers, volunteers) according to the criteria of the Ministry of Health and in accordance with the directives of the health authorities".

It said that it could not reveal the names or ages of any governors who may have been vaccinated on-site, due to medical confidentiality.

The alleged “queue-jumping” vaccinations are said to have been done using Pfizer/BioNTech doses provided by regional healthcare agency l’Agence régionale de santé (ARS) d’Île-de-France, to private hospitals and clinics in the region, to protect healthcare workers and staff aged 50 or over, or with underlying conditions.

Yet, the ARS told FranceInfo that the American Hospital is not a public vaccination centre and is not one of the five hospital centres authorised to vaccinate the region’s healthcare workers.

It is permitted only to vaccinate its own healthcare workers and its administrative staff that are the most exposed to Covid.

 

Not an isolated incident

An anonymous hospital manager source told FranceInfo that this is not an isolated incident.

The source said: “During the first month of vaccination, we immediately started hearing about ‘queue-jumpers’ in private establishments but also in public vaccination centres.

“But it is very difficult to prove, and as the objective is to vaccinate the greatest number of people, this behaviour - while morally reprehensible - is not banned by law.

“Between doctors, we speak of the ‘sixth or seventh dose’ left in the vial, which, if we are clever, can be seen as the ‘VIP dose’. The one we can give to people who are non-priority.”

The latter comment refers to the “extra doses” that can sometimes be found at the end of the day, as each vaccine vial has extra doses included to account for possible waste.

Another anonymous source, from healthcare union la Fédération Santé Sociaux de la CFDT Île-de-France, said: “From the start of the national vaccination campaign, colleagues in clinic have said there are queue-jumpers, in fear of a lack [of doses] or the uncertainty of getting an appointment in a vaccination centre.

“A colleague from a Paris clinic saw a doctor; his wife and two children were vaccinated on the way out.”

Healthcare worker priority

Currently in France, healthcare workers are among the priority groups that are eligible for vaccination.

Read more: France Covid-19 vaccine campaign calendar

The allegations come as Mr Véran himself received his first vaccination yesterday. The minister received the AstraZeneca jab, due to his work as a neurologist.

The minister said that he also received his vaccination as an example to all medical professionals, saying that he is part of the national “family of doctors”.

Just after his vaccination, he said: “I invite all healthcare workers to get vaccinated, in their hospitals, in the town centres, anywhere that is available, to protect themselves as quickly as possible.”

Mr Véran was also asked about the controversy over the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in light of the news that South Africa has suspended its use after studies showed it was just 22% effective against the South African variant.

He said: “I continue to recommend the vaccination via the AstraZeneca vaccine, which protects against 99% of the virus [variants] circulating around our country.”

So far, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that it is “too early” to reject the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Richard Hatchett, director of CEPI, the Covax research arm put in place by the WHO, said: “It is much too early to reject this vaccine [which is] an important part of the global response to the current pandemic.”

Michael Ryan, director of urgent healthcare at the WHO, said: “The first task of vaccines right now is to reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths. And it seems that at the moment, the data is showing us that all vaccines are doing that.

In France, Mr Véran said that 270,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had arrived on Saturday, February 6, as vaccinations for all healthcare workers began.

The country is set to receive an extra 300,000 today, plus “hundreds of thousands of doses throughout February”, the minister said, with the aim to have vaccinated all healthcare workers, firefighters, and at-home nurses, within two weeks.

Mr Véran has also previously said, along with Prime Minister Jean Castex, that senior members of staff and government ministers should not take priority in the vaccination queue.

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France Covid-19: Vaccines on track and no new lockdown

Covid France: Stricter rules to halt spread of new variants

France urged to speed up vaccination as variants spread

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