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Concern as Covid vaccination rate for first jabs drops in France

Ministers say the country must ‘do better’ and urge people to book appointments as soon as possible, as the Delta variant continues to spread

A sign to a Covid-19 vaccination centre in France. Concern as Covid vaccination rate for first jabs drops in France

The number of people booking first doses of the vaccine is dropping rapidly; from 400,000 per day in early June, to fewer than 200,000 this week Pic: AmateurTraveller / Shutterstock

People in France are being urged by the government to continue to get their Covid-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible as figures show that the take-up of first jabs is plummeting.

On the surface, France appears to be maintaining a good rhythm of jabs, at 700,000 injections per day. Yet, this figure mainly accounts for second doses.

For first doses, the numbers are dropping rapidly; from 400,000 per day in early June, to fewer than 200,000.

Prime Minister Jean Castex this week said: “The booking of appointments for the first vaccination is slowing down. This is too few, we have done much better, we must do much better.”

The minister was with Health Minister Olivier Véran in the Landes department, where 70% of new cases are now the Delta variant.

Online booking platform Doctolib is now seeing fewer than 150,000 daily bookings for a first dose, compared to 250,000 at the beginning of June.

At this speed, the platform predicts that just over 35 million people will have been vaccinated by July 15, of which 29 million will be “fully vaccinated” – meaning they will have had all the jabs they need for full protection.

France is aiming for 40 million people to have had their first dose by the end of August (including 85% of people with underlying conditions or aged 50 and over), and for 35 million people to be fully vaccinated by the same time.

At the current speed, this will not be achieved. Currently, 19.6 million people are fully vaccinated, and 32.7 million have had their first dose.

Medical experts have warned that the current speed will not be enough to ensure herd immunity, which biologist Samuel Alizon has estimated will require a figure of “higher than 80% vaccinated”.

Professor Patrick Berche, a member of the Académie nationale de médecine and former director of medical institute l’Institut Pasteur, told BFMTV: “The risk of not achieving herd immunity is that we will have a fourth wave of the virus in September-October, as in many countries, we are seeing mutations appear.

“The Delta variant has, for example, been identified in several departments in France.” 

Read more: 70% of Covid cases in Landes now Delta variant

Vaccination centres almost empty

Some vaccinodromes have even said they fear they could have to close or be replaced by smaller centres, due to a lack of patients.

Pierre Lemaire, a firefighter-nurse, who has been vaccinating people at the Saint-Quentin vaccinodrome in Yvelines, told BFMTV: “I’ve only had 20 or 30 patients today. A few weeks ago we would have had 70 over the same time frame.”

A vaccination centre manager in Mayenne told France Bleu: “The tendency is dropping, people are demotivated. It’s a shame because we have a lot of spaces, we can accommodate people all day almost.”

Cécile de Longeville, a retired nurse who has been helping at a vaccination centre in Allier, Vichy, said: “I arrived at 14:00, it’s now 16:00, and I’ve vaccinated 10 people. I’ve never seen [such low numbers].”

President’s warning on Delta variant

President Emmanuel Macron yesterday urged citizens who have not already been vaccinated to book an appointment.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “The results of the European vaccination strategy are in. We must speed up, even more. And stay alert, because the Delta variant is spreading. I am calling on our citizens, who are not vaccinated, to book an appointment on sante.fr.”

Mr Castex addressed people’s fears, saying: “Be afraid of the virus, but not of vaccination. Vaccination is for your health, your safety, and your freedom.”

He said that the campaign must be continued among young people, as this will allow access to cultural sites, sports centres, and foreign travel.

In Landes, where the variant is spreading most, Mr Castex announced that a “strong action plan” would be put in place over the next week, including 14,000 tests and the arrivals of 20,000 extra doses of the vaccine, for a total of 60,000.

Mr Castex also warned that if this is not enough, then he could delay the relaxation of Covid restrictions in the department.

Mandatory vaccination for care workers suggested

Ministers have also stepped up their calls for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, especially elderly care home staff. 

Minister for Autonomy Brigitte Bourguignon said that “only 42% of professionals have been completely vaccinated”, prompting Mr Castex to urge: “It is imperative that all elderly care home staff are fully vaccinated by the end of August. We must do more, at all costs.”

He warned: “If the vaccination coverage of care workers does not progress, I could be convinced to suggest mandatory vaccination, probably by September.”

The minister said that the “vaccination campaign is not over”.

Booking platform Doctolib said: “There are still 160,000 slots available over the next three days”, while the platform Vite Ma Dose tweeted: “Thousands of vaccination slots are still available”, urging people to get their dose so they can take holidays over the summer.

In order to maintain and increase vaccination take-up over the summer, authorities are aiming to increase ways to convince people who are currently reticent or undecided.

The Assurance maladie is set to expand its call and text campaigns, which until now have been targeted at the elderly, especially to people with underlying conditions, and those eligible for extra health benefits.

Doctors are set to receive lists of their non-vaccinated patients, and regional health agencies les agences régionales de santé (ARS) are set to mount ‘special operations’ to reach sites with high footfall.

They will also target harder-to-reach populations such as students, pregnant women, delivery drivers and chauffeurs, migrants, and travellers.

Related stories

Covid: 9-10% of new cases in France now Delta variant
70% of Covid cases in Landes now Delta variant

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