Updated Covid vaccines specially designed to target subvariants of the Covid-19 Omicron strain are to be rolled out to vulnerable groups across France from October 3.
Health Minister François Braun confirmed the news to the public service media FranceInfo.
He said that the campaign for "a new booster dose for target populations" was being rolled out rapidly in response to rising cases and what he called a “return in the circulation of the virus”.
He said: “This will concern fragile people, the over-60s, health professionals and people who are in contact with fragile people.”
These groups include people aged 60 or over and people under 60 who are at high risk, including those with underlying conditions, the immunosuppressed, children and teenagers at high risk, and pregnant women. Their immediate contacts will also be eligible.
Mr Braun added that the campaign would not, for the moment, concern the general public, but "of course, if you want to be vaccinated, you can".
"From October 3, we will have this new vaccine available in pharmacies and vaccination centres, i.e. a vaccine that vaccinates you against the virus in general but also [specifically] against Omicron.”
The new Covid boosters will be given alongside the usual winter ‘flu campaign.
Covid : le début de la 8e vague ? ➡️ "Nous constatons depuis trois semaines une reprise de la circulation du virus", admet François Braun. "On se dirige vers une nouvelle dose de rappel, pas pour toute la population : les personnes fragiles, les personnes de plus de 60 ans." pic.twitter.com/sknIoGq34n— franceinfo (@franceinfo) September 27, 2022
Authorisation of ‘adapted’ vaccines
The Haute autorité de santé (HAS) gave its authorisation to the ‘new’ vaccines on Wednesday, September 21. It said that its decision had been made “based on available data within an epidemic context, marked by the spread of the subvariant BA.5”.
The ‘new’ vaccines are not actually new per se, but [existing ones] that have been adapted to [current] circulating strains”, said the HAS. “The clinical effectiveness of these new vaccines is at least equivalent, if not higher [and] their tolerance is identical.”
Two of the vaccines have been created by Pfizer/BioNTech, and the third by Moderna. All use the mRNA technology (which triggers an immune response), and are adapted to fight the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of the Omicron strain.
They were recently validated by the European Medicines Agency.
Rising Covid cases
Covid infections have been rising across the country in recent days despite the virus appearing to retreat somewhat by early September.
In a report over the dates September 12-18, health authority Santé publique France said: “The circulation of SARS-CoV-2 has accelerated throughout metropolitan France, with virological indicators rising sharply.”
It is not yet clear what effect these rising cases might have on hospital pressure. However, another marker of rising cases is that more than one million Covid-19 tests were carried out last week in France.
This symbolic threshold of one million has therefore been breached for the first time in six weeks, after having reached its lowest level for two years in August.
A return to mask-wearing?
In the same interview, Mr Braun also said that people could begin to wear masks again, especially when around vulnerable people.
He said: “Let’s use common sense. When you’re in close proximity with others, put on your mask. If you’re with a very fragile person, put on your mask.”