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France in Covid vaccination race against spread of variants

A health authority says vaccines offer a 'hope for a major solution to the pandemic, but not before summer or autumn'

16 January 2021
By Connexion journalist

France is in a race against time to vaccinate its population before new variants of Covid-19 spread, stated the Conseil Scientifique, a body that advises the government on coronavirus issues, in a report published yesterday (January 15).

France begins its public rollout of the vaccine on Monday, January 18, starting with the over 75s and those at high risk of developing serious forms of the virus. 

But new cases of more contagious variants of Covid-19 have been detected in the country.

Health Minister Olivier Véran has said that the “so-called British variant” is responsible for 1.4% of Covid-19 cases diagnosed currently in France.

“We are at a pivotal time, torn between hope for vaccines and the concerns associated with the new British variant,” the Conseil Scientifique’s report states.

“On the one hand, vaccinating vulnerable people could reduce the impact of the epidemic on the health system within a few months. On the other hand, the more transmissible British variant is likely to accelerate the circulation of the virus, and thus its impact on the health care system, in the weeks and months to come. 

“A race against time is therefore underway between the vaccination effort on the one hand and the spread of the British variant in the French population on the other.”

The report adds that, “vaccines are a major hope for limiting the impact or even largely resolving the COVID-19 pandemic, but not before the summer/autumn of 2021.”

The government is aiming to vaccinate over one million people by the end of January and between 2.4 to 4 million by the end of February. 

Over 1 million Covid jabs booked in France in one day

The Conseil Scientifique said that the current strategy is based on the need to save time in order to vaccinate the maximum number of people at risk due to their age, state of health or profession, while limiting the spread of the variants in France.

It noted that while the British variant of the virus is more contagious, it is not more pathogenic (ie. it is not more likely to produce disease). 

It can affect children without causing more serious forms, the body stated, adding that it is not yet known whether patients who have previously contracted Covid-19 are fully protected against new infection with this variant.

As for the South African variant, the Conseil Scientifique stated in its report that it has been found on three patients so far in France. 

“There is an urgent need to set up a monitoring system that will allow its progress to be tracked,” the report stated. 

Four scenarios to manage the variants

The Conseil Scientifique proposed four ways to stem the propagation of the new variants. 

The first is to install a nationwide curfew at 18:00, which the government has already announced and which will come into effect tonight (January 16). 

The second proposal is to introduce local lockdowns in areas most affected by the virus with restrictions on inter-regional travel, alongside curfew measures.

The third suggestion is to put in place a national lockdown similar to the one brought in at the end of October, 2020. 

Finally, the last proposal is to establish a strict lockdown, similar to the first one introduced in Spring 2020 and to follow that with a curfew for a certain period. 

The body also suggested the government strongly recommend that elderly people and those with underlying health risks self-isolate if they are not able to be vaccinated within the next two months.

Read more:

Curfews, vaccines, schools: Roundup of France’s Covid update

Covid-19 France: Where can I book a vaccine appointment?

Easy-look timeline of France’s Covid vaccine rollout

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