Pharmacists in France will be able to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine to patients once it is approved by health authorities, the government’s spokesman Gabriel Attal has said.
The Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) in France is expected to give its approval on the vaccine around 17:15 tonight, including a verdict on who should receive the vaccine and who can deliver the vaccine. The vaccine was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last Friday (January 29).
Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that have to be stored at very cold temperatures, the AstraZeneca one can be kept between 4°C and 8°C.
This is the reason pharmacies have not yet been involved in the vaccination rollout in France, Mr Attal said on France 5 television show C à vous yesterday (February 1).
“If they have not been able to do so until now, it is because we have Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that have storage requirements… which objectively make it very difficult for a pharmacist to do so in his pharmacy, which is not the case for AstraZeneca,” he said.
The AstraZeneca vaccines will be in pharmacies by the third week of February, the head of the pharmacists union the Fédération des syndicats pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF) told Franceinfo.
"There are 18,000 pharmacies already vaccinating patients [against seasonal flu], with everything they need to carry out the vaccination," Philippe Besset said.
"We were able to vaccinate 10 million people in two months. We have a well-established network to do this, all we need now are the doses.”
He said that France has relied heavily on vaccination centres so far but that pharmacies were now prepared to take on a greater role in the vaccination campaign.
“The real mass vaccination will be done by local health workers,” he said.
He added that the pharmacies are waiting for the recommendations of the health authorities to know who should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
German health authorities have advised not giving the vaccine to those over 65 due to a lack of data on its effectiveness in this age group.
The EMA, upon approving the vaccine for use in Europe, stated that “there are not yet enough results in older participants (over 55 years old) to provide a figure for how well the vaccine will work in this group”.
“However, protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines,” the agency stated.
It is expected that the HAS, France’s health authority, will give recommendations on this in its approval decision to be announced later today.
Dr Alain Fischer, the official coordinator of France’s vaccination campaign, said that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available in France around the middle of February.
He said the vaccine’s characteristics should make it possible for GPs and pharmacists to vaccinate people. He also welcomed the arrival of what he described as a “very good vaccine” that “protects against serious forms [of Covid-19]”.
AstraZeneca will deliver only half of the initially planned 80 million doses of its vaccine to the EU by the end of March, due to production issues.