A new Covid wave has begun in France with case numbers rising by 56% over the last week, raising questions over the potential for a wider rollout of the fourth vaccine – or second booster – dose.
On Friday (June 24) – when the official data was last updated – some 79,262 new infections were recorded in France, and the positivity rates for tests taken was 27.1%, up 20% compared to a week before.
Covid hospitalisations have also begun to rise in France, increasing 25% over the past week, with admissions to intensive care also up 11%.
This surge in cases can largely be attributed to the emergence of the BA4 and BA5 subvariants of Omicron, which are more easily transmissible.
In response to this seventh Covid wave, it is possible that health authorities might think about extending the offer of a fourth vaccine dose to everyone.
This second booster campaign was already opened to over-60s, immunosuppressed patients and care home residents in March, but only 2.18 million of the 8.7 million people eligible have so far taken up this extra dose.
France’s health ministry said during a press conference last week that this coverage is “clearly insufficient”.
However, Élisabeth Bouvet of health service quality regulator Haute autorité de santé (HAS), has said that “recommending a second booster for the whole population will not fundamentally change the course of the epidemic”.
Infection specialist Benjamin Davido has also warned that trying to give boosters to the whole population which is eligible to be vaccinated would “create a bottleneck”.
“Today we need to think strategically,” he said. “The challenge is to avoid hospitalisations. People who are most at risk of being admitted to hospital are the elderly and most vulnerable, [including] those with serious health conditions. They are the priority and should continue to be.”
Virologist Étienne Decroly added: “The fourth dose creates the issue of adapting the vaccine to the circulating variants. At the moment, the vaccines which we have at our disposal are not adapted to fight against Omicron.
“In addition, the surge which we are seeing now is very quick, and does not allow for the implementation of an effective vaccination strategy.”
Moderna has said that it should have an Omicron-adapted vaccine ready “by September,” while the European Medicines Agency has announced that Pfizer is also working on a modified version of its vaccine.