France began its public rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination on January 18, but already many issues have surfaced around booking appointments.
Connexion readers have mentioned having to wait on the phone for hours over several days to get through to vaccination centres or all their nearby centres being out of doses.
On the Doctolib website, an official platform for booking Covid vaccine appointments, a quick search of vaccination centres around Saint-Malo in Brittany shows that all three of the ones that appear are currently fully booked.
They all show a message stating: “Due to a very high demand and a limited stock of vaccines, all appointments have already been made. Availability will appear soon. Try again in a few days or look for another centre.”
There have also been reports, by Connexion readers and by French media outlets, of the national vaccination phone number, set up to provide information on how people can book appointments, being constantly engaged.
France’s health minister Olivier Véran has asked for patience amid rising criticism from people unable to book appointments.
“Not everyone can be vaccinated in one day or one week, not only because the logistics would not work out, but because the challenge is to have enough doses to vaccinate everyone in France,” he told radio network France Inter on January 19.
He said that 2 million vaccine appointments have already been made.
“The more new doses of vaccines we receive, the more appointments can be made. I understand the impatience of the French, I share it, and we will get there,” he said.
But for people who are eligible for the vaccine, those aged over 75 and those with serious health issues, the situation is frustrating. Many Connexion readers have reported various issues with the process.
Doug Revell, 80, has been living in France for over 20 years and is now retired. He managed to book a Covid-19 appointment for Tuesday, January 19, through the Doctolib site at a vaccination centre in Moissac in the Tarn-et-Garonne department, around a 30-minute drive from his home.
However, he ended up missing the appointment as he was directed to the wrong address by the booking platform.
Mr Revell was sent multiple reminders via text and email of the location of the centre, including a Google Maps link. But the address was wrong in each instance.
Instead of giving the address of the vaccination centre as 18 Avenue du Chasselas in Moissac, the email and text message reminders directed Mr Revell to 19 Avenue du Chasselas.
He said this does not seem like a big problem, but actually the vaccination centre is a conference hall that is not visible from 19 Avenue du Chasselas. Google Maps shows the two addresses are over 200 metres apart and Mr Revell said there were no signs indicating the vaccination centre.
After looking around he returned home and was eventually able to contact the vaccination centre to explain the problem. They told him they would get in touch again to rebook an appointment, but that might not be for another few weeks.
The reason Doctolib gave the wrong address is that it is incorrectly noted on sante.fr, the government website that provides information on booking vaccines.
Mr Revell said that he understands it was a simple typing mistake but that it is “annoying”. He said if he knew the area better he would have been able to find the correct location but he did not know the conference hall existed and it is not visible from the road.
Robert Evans, 83, a retired former journalist from Ireland now living in Ferney-Voltaire in the department of Ain, also had trouble booking an appointment.
He said he first tried booking a slot on Doctolib and found an appointment in a town 100km away. As he was about to click confirm, he was informed that the vaccination centre was reserved for people living in the region only.
He said he then went on sante.fr and began phoning nearby vaccination centres but said he was endlessly put on hold.
“Eventually, three days later and after having my phone on automatic redial for hours on end, I was offered an appointment in three weeks time, with a booster 21 days later, at a centre 40 kilometres away,” he said.
“But should it really be necessary to spend so much time running up and down through lists of phone numbers or trailing through four or five websites to get a jab the government is urging us to have?
“How are older people with minimal computer skills, no time to sit endlessly on the telephone, and no personal transport to get them to distant centres, managing this frustrating process?”
An improved system?
Mr Véran, the health minister, has acknowledged the issues with the booking process and has said that it will be improved.
He said that anyone who wants an appointment will be able to get one.
He also said a waiting list system would be set up this week.
“When you are in telephone contact with a [vaccination] centre or when you go to the website but you cannot find a slot available, we will register your contact details and we will call you back when slots are available for vaccination," Mr Véran told radio network France Inter
"There will be no need to call back.”
He said that half a million more appointment slots would become available in the coming days.
Does France have enough doses?
France has ordered 225 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in total, to be delivered over the course of 2021, but some of those vaccines have not yet been approved by health authorities.
Read our article here on how many doses France has ordered and when they are expected to arrive.
In addition, Pfizer, one of the two developers whose vaccine has been authorised in France, has announced shipment issues.
The company is supposed to deliver 500,000 doses every week to France but this week there will be 140,000 fewer.
Agnès Pannier-Runacher, à propos des retards de livraison du vaccin Pfizer : «Le calendrier de livraisons prévoit une baisse de 140.000 doses cette semaine», dans #LaMatinale. pic.twitter.com/xmGR3XBB5h— CNEWS (@CNEWS) January 18, 2021
Agnès Pannier-Runacher, a junior minister for economy and finance, said she expects this shortfall to be made up for in the coming months.
“I am reassured but vigilant... At the end of the first trimester of the year we will make up for the delay of this week,” she told CNews.
The website covidtracker.fr, which provides statistics about Covid-19 in France, notes that 42% of the vaccine doses that the country has received have been used.
When it works, it works
Other Connexion readers have reported the vaccination process as going smoothly.
Warwick Gordon, 75, originally from the UK, received the jab on January 18 and described it as painless and well organised.
Others wrote on Facebook that they had managed to get appointments without problems.
“Easy to book here in the Lot, both appointments for the two vaccines booked together,” one Facebook user wrote in response to a Connexion article about Mr Gordon’s experience.
“It took me a little while to get through but when I made contact they gave me an appointment for less than 48 hours later. This is in Avallon in the Yonne 89,” another Facebook user wrote in the same comment thread.
The latest figures show that 692,777 people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in France. The government is aiming to vaccinate one million people by the end of the month and between 2.4 and 4 million by the end of February.