The ‘reprise’ of Covid in France is real, the French health minister has said, as he called for ‘the most fragile’ in society to receive their booster vaccine as soon as possible.
Aurélien Rousseau said that the imminent start of the cooler months could bring the typical problems of winter, including spreading respiratory illnesses such as Covid and bronchiolitis.
Mr Rousseau, speaking in an interview with FranceInter, said: “We have finished with the most violent form of the pandemic. But we are in the middle of a reprise that is real. That’s why I brought forward the vaccination date.”
The booster vaccination campaign, which started on October 2, was originally intended to begin on October 17.
‘More effective vaccine’ to protect the most fragile
He called for eligible people to be vaccinated as soon as possible saying: “The vaccine works on the strain that is currently spreading. We have no particular concerns about it. We must protect the most fragile people.”
He said that only 20% of people aged 60 and over who are eligible for a booster vaccine received a dose last year. He added: “We have a vaccine that is more effective than that of last year. There are no side-effects.”
Seuls 20% des plus de 60 ans éligibles à la nouvelle dose de vaccin anti-Covid avaient été vaccinés l’an passé. "On a un vaccin qui est plus efficace que celui de l’an dernier, il n’y a pas d’effets secondaires", assure le ministre de la Santé Aurélien Rousseau. pic.twitter.com/1OVjkn2g22— France Inter (@franceinter) October 3, 2023
The minister also said that France must “do better” when it comes to helping people with Long Covid. He said: “There is no denying that it is a major public health challenge. But we must do better in how we look after it.”
Mr Rousseau said that France was working to ensure that the preventative treatment against bronchiolitis, called Beyfortus, would continue to be available for those who need it.
Bronchiolitis is a condition that mainly affects infants in winter, and last year it contributed to the ‘triple epidemic’ that caused the over-saturation of hospitals, along with Covid and flu.
Authorities had initially thought that only 30% of parents would choose to use Beyfortus for their at-risk infants, but the percentage has in fact reached 60 to 80%.
The medicine has now been restricted to use in maternity wards for very young infants who are most at-risk. “The priority will be these maternity units,” said Mr Rousseau. “They will have doses all season.”
The minister also addressed growing concerns about medicine shortages in France, and said the government was working to reduce the problem.
“We have put 400 medicines under surveillance and we are relocating [the procurement] of 25 strategic medicines,” he said. “Today, overall, we have stocks for the winter, particularly amoxicillin. But some pharmacies have overstocked. I've asked that even small pharmacies be supplied.”
He did concede that the effectiveness of these measures would “depend on [possible future] epidemics” over the winter, including seasonal flu.
Mr Rousseau addressed the controversial ‘explosion’ of bedbugs in France, and denied that their spread has “anything to do with immigration”. Last week, Cnews host Pascal Praud sparked controversy by asking if there could be a link between immigration and bedbug infestations.
The minister instead said that his focus was on ensuring that anti-bedbug treatments were accessible to everyone who needed them. He said: "There are 450 approved professionals listed on the ministry's website. I want to combat abuse [of prices] and limit costs.
“Bedbugs have nothing to do with immigration. You can bring them with you even if you are a high-profile professional and have travelled on a super-clean plane,” he said.
The minister also addressed the new human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine that is being launched in secondary schools from 5ème (age 12-13), and said that he wanted it to become mandatory for all schools to offer the jab.
Currently, some public schools can choose to opt out of the scheme.
"My aim is to provide the best possible information,” said Mr Rousseau. “We have a lot of experience with this vaccine, with 300 million doses injected. It protects against cancers of the cervix, anus, vagina and vulva. Some people may find these words shocking. But children in 5ème, whether in public or private schools, have all heard these words.
“If parents and children don't want to be vaccinated, I understand. But if the schools themselves don't want to do it, that's a major problem,” he said.
Nobel Prize winners
Mr Rousseau said that the awarding of the Nobel Prize for medicine to two researchers - Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman - who worked on developing mRNA vaccines (the vaccine technology that was used against Covid) was “very good news”.
He said: “These two researchers changed the face of humanity. Everyone doubted these vaccines [before].”