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Covid vaccine: still many doubts says leading French doctor

We are still far from knowing when an effective vaccine for Covid-19 will be available says Dr Jean-Paul Hamon, President of the Fédération des Médecins de France.

The French doctor said that that we will have to learn to live with the virus as he doubts a vaccine will soon be available.   

“As a general practitioner I believe only what I see," he told The Connexion. "If we have a vaccine next year I will be the first to applaud them. But as a non-commercial doctor, I don’t really believe it."

His comments came as US biotech company Moderna announced that its vaccine had become the first in the US to have results published in a peer-reviewed medical journal showing an effective immunity response to Covid-19. A vaccine being developed in Oxford for Astra Zeneca is also claimed to be well-advanced with claims of possible availability by the end of this year.

In a press release published on Tuesday July 15, Moderna said it “remains on track to be able to deliver approximately 500 million doses per year, and possibly up to 1 billion doses per year, beginning in 2021.”

Dr Hamon was sceptical. He said that these announcements are usually made with the stock market in mind.

“The aim of these announcements is to publicise, to boost stocks, to get funds. Unfortunately, these things are occurring in the industry,” he said. 

Institut Pasteur, a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases and vaccines, told The Connexion in an interview in July that they were working on one vaccine project that was about to start human clinical trials, and that they expected the results of phases two and three in the first half of 2021.

“We expect to obtain the outcomes [of phase 1] in October, then we will go to phase 2 and 3 trials with way more people,” Christophe d’Enfert, director of Institut Pasteur, told The Connexion. 

“The aim of phase 2 is to evaluate the vaccine’s ability to produce an immune response and the aim of phase 3 is to test its efficacy,” he said. He said the vaccine could go into commercial production soon after the results came out in the first half of 2021.

But Dr Hamon said that he did not know when France would have a vaccine for the virus, saying only that he is aware that there are tests being carried out.

He said that finding a vaccine for viruses is “complicated”. 

“Vaccines are very difficult to put in place, for example, if we could by now we would certainly have a vaccine against AIDS, but unfortunately we still don’t have that,” he said. 

Dr Hamon’s doubts about having a vaccine ready by next year reflect those of Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist and a member of the team of scientists advising the French government on the coronavirus crisis.

He told French media BFMTV that he would be surprised if there was an effective vaccine in 2021. 

And, even if there is a vaccine, Dr Hamon said he did not know if it would be the panacea that many people are hoping for.  

“We don’t know about the longevity of the virus, we don’t know about its evolutions or its mutations. 

"We will have to learn to live with this virus, learn to wear masks, to respect social distancing. Unfortunately, we will have to change our lifestyle a little bit and learn from this pandemic,” he said.  

According to data provided by the French government there have been over 172,000 cases of Covid-19 in the country and more than 30,000 deaths.

With the introduction of increasingly relaxed defonfinement measures, the number of Covid-19 cases has shown a rise recently. 

The latest weekly report from Santé Publique France, released on July 9, confirms that cases rose in France when compared to the previous week. 

In a televised interview for the Fête Nationale yesterday, President Macron said he supported mandatory wearing of masks in enclosed public spaces from August 1 (however this date has not yet been formally confirmed).

Related stories:

Coronavirus circulation higher in France since deconfinement

France introduces Covid tests for ‘at risk’ airport arrivals

Macron’s July 14 interview: masks, racism and 3D printing

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