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Covid France: Plea for older people to get fourth dose as cases soar

Omicron subvariants BA4 and BA5 are behind a 50% increase in cases in the past week. Second booster rates among eligible vulnerable population are low

The BA4 and BA5 Omicron variants are partly to blame for the reprise of the epidemic Pic: angellodeco / Shutterstock

Covid cases have risen by 50% in France in the past week, with experts saying that the situation clearly constitutes “an epidemic restart” and that vaccination “remains our strongest weapon”.

There are now 50,000 new cases being confirmed per day on average, mainly of the new Omicron variants BA4 and BA5.

There were 45,700 new infections per day from June 12-18 (which is still far fewer than the 365,000 seen at the peak in mid-January this year).

The higher figures have been blamed on: 

  • The relaxing of barrier gestures in businesses, on public transport, and at events
  • The increased contagion of the new variants
  • The declining effectiveness of vaccinations over four to six months.

Infectologist Anne-Claude Crémieux told FranceInfo: “Here, we are clearly seeing an epidemic restart linked to the arrival of the new variants from the Omicron family, called BA4 and BA5. These variants spread more quickly.” 

Professor Crémieux said that patients who are suffering the worst are older people who have had their third vaccination over nine months ago [and therefore are generally less immune to the virus and its mutations]. She said that so far, the numbers in intensive care are not rising.

She said: “This shows that there is indeed a drop in effectiveness of the vaccination protection after around four to six months. Some people who received their third dose nine months ago are now less protected against severe illness.”

The new variants BA4 and BA5 are more effective at “getting through” the vaccine than previous variants, the professor said, which shows the “evolutionary capacity of the virus”.

Professor Mahmoud Zureik, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin (Yvelines), told Le Monde: "The current rebound in the epidemic refutes the idea that the virus has become seasonal, at least this year.

"We might have thought that booster shots could wait until the autumn and that they would be coupled with the flu vaccination campaign. [But it appears that] we must rely on the immune status of each individual and on the distance from the last booster received."

‘At-risk people should wear masks’

Professor Crémieux said that at-risk people should adapt to the new variants. 

She advised people aged 60 and over to start wearing masks again, especially when they are in very confined spaces, such as in the metro or on public transport, and when in contact with infected people.

Currently, nine million people in France are eligible for a second booster dose. This includes people aged 60 and over, or who are immunosuppressed and at most risk. 

The Health Ministry has warned that the take-up of the second booster dose has been “highly insufficient”, with only 31% of the eligible population among those aged 80 and over having received their jab (equivalent to 742,000 people).

For elderly care home residents, the percentage is 48% (200,000 people), and just 19% among eligible people aged 60-79 (1.12 million).

Professor Crémieux advised those who are eligible to get their vaccination as soon as possible because the effectiveness of previous doses wanes after four months. She said: “These people are today poorly protected against severe forms. 

“Vaccination remains our main weapon against severe forms.”

Professor Alain Fischer, head of the country’s vaccination strategy, said: “The systematic practice of this second booster is an essential weapon against this wave, whose scope remains unknown.”

However, he said that the wave appeared to be having a “moderate and limited impact” so far, with the effect of the variants on South Africa and Portugal appearing “reassuring” when it comes to the “consequences that they could have in France”.

Professor Zureik, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health in the Yvelines (Île-de-France) said: “We can predict that this wave may not be too severe. If it lasts around two months, as it did in Portugal, where it is retreating already, we can expect it to retreat in France in the second half of July.”

Pharmacists have reported a rise in positive cases, La Dépêche reports, with one pharmacy in Toulouse reporting a 60% increase week-on-week.

A similar picture is emerging in the UK – especially in Scotland – Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Greece, with cases rising and some countries preparing to reintroduce some anti-Covid measures.

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