French Covid scientist: ‘I see light at end of the tunnel’

The president of le Conseil Scientifique has said there is cause for hope in early Covid vaccination data as France prepares for 2021

20 November 2020
Professor Delfraissy and a Covid vaccination. French Covid scientist: ‘I see light at end of the tunnel’Professor Delfraissy has said that there is cause for hope in early Covid vaccination data
By Hannah Thompson

The president of government advisory council le Conseil Scientifique has said that he is cautiously optimistic about recent Covid-19 vaccination data, and said they offer hope and “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Professor Jean-François Delfraissy told newspaper Le Monde in an interview: “These first data make me optimistic: Maybe it will not be as difficult as we thought to create a vaccine for this coronavirus.

“There is still an important question: what is the duration of immunity, will this vaccine protect for several months, or longer? But even if it is only a few months, and even if the protection level is at 70%, this is still light at the end of this tunnel.”

Mass vaccination plans?

The Professor has said he is as yet reserving judgement over whether a Covid-19 vaccination should be mandatory in France, but stated that the country “has no room for error” when it comes to deploying any possible future vaccine.

Some MPs in France have called for the vaccine to be made mandatory, but the government has proven more reticent on the subject.

Read more: Covid-19 vaccine ‘should be mandatory for all’ in France

Professor Delfraissy said: “Once the safety of the vaccine has been established, and a vaccination strategy well-led, we should be able to protect the most fragile [people] by the end of February-March.

“And then, for the general population, we could - depending on the arrival of vaccines in enough quantity - create a voluntary vaccination campaign for the rest of the population by summer, or maybe September.”

Vaccination scepticism?

On the subject of general scepticism in France towards the vaccine, Professor Delfraissy said: “We must pay very careful attention before making a Covid-19 vaccination mandatory. It would be preferable for our citizens to take control themselves.

“I would expect that older and more fragile people will get vaccines en masse. For the younger people, getting vaccinated in such a context as this is a civic act.”

But the Professor admitted that citizens should be properly informed about the vaccine.

Read more: France poll: 46% would decline Covid vaccination

He said: “We need more transparency and major communication work. As the minister for health said perfectly: ‘Everything that I know, the citizen should also know.’

“We can see that for some populations, the benefit-risk ratio is absolutely undeniable. That is the case for those aged 65 and over, of which I am part, and I will get a vaccine. For all groups, labs and health authorities should put studies in place to determine the effectiveness of products and any eventual side-effects.

“There is a major logistical challenge in deploying vaccinations on time across the country, France has no room for error. Should this be organised by the health system? Should we use the military, like the Americans? Or private logistics [companies], like the Germans? We must ask ourselves these questions.”

 

And in the meantime?

Professor Delfraissy said that pending the deployment of the vaccine, France must “hold on”.

He said: “It is fundamental that the most fragile people protect themselves during this two-to-three month phase before the arrival of the vaccines. Then it is important that we kickstart the economy in some way, without allowing the virus to start back up again, with the youngest people continuing to respect the measures in place.

“What will be difficult, in the first few months of next year, I think, is to develop two strategies in parallel; one that is about public health: ‘test, trace, isolate’, and barrier gestures; and the other that is organisational, to prepare the arrival of the vaccine.

“Even if the vaccine will not resolve everything and 2021 still will not be a normal year, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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