Health minister Olivier Véran has confirmed that Covid vaccinations will begin on Sunday, December 27 in France.
In a tweet sent yesterday, he wrote: “The European Medicines Agency has just authorised the Pfizer vaccine. This week we should get notices from the European Commission and the Haute Autorité de Sante, and the first deliveries. The vaccine campaign starts in France and Europe on Sunday!”
Secure vaccine delivery planned
Today the minister will attend an exercise to test the delivery chain for the vaccines, which is focused on ensuring the security of the doses as they enter and travel through France.
The Pfizer vaccine, which is the only vaccine to have been approved in Europe so far, will be made in Pfizer factories in Belgium, before being escorted to delivery destinations by police escorts and drones.
Drivers, who have signed confidentiality agreements, will only be allowed to make brief stops in motorway rest areas, in order to check the temperature of their cargo.
The vaccines will then be delivered to around 100 secret storage locations, to be kept under surveillance before being given to medical professionals.
A source from Interpol told news source FranceInfo that such measures were necessary as “the vaccine is liquid gold for 2021. It is the most precious thing to distribute in the coming year. The mafia and other criminal organisations are already prepared".
Authorities are also concerned about the threat of terrorist or anti-vax attacks, which could damage the vaccines or delay distribution.
Vaccines to be distributed according to plan
When the vaccines arrive, they will be distributed according to a three-phase plan outlined by Prime Minister Jean Castex last week. The first doses will go to the elderly in care homes, with flyers regarding the vaccination process to be distributed tomorrow.
Speaking in parliament Mr Castex said: “The first phase will last a period of six to eight weeks, to account for the delay of 21 days between the first vaccination and the booster.” Around a million people will be vaccinated in this phase, which is expected to last until February.
For the second phase, he said: “Based on the advice of the Haute Autorité de Santé, we will enlarge the circle of population which has access to the vaccine in line with provisions, starting with the nearly 14 million people who are at risk due to their age or chronic illness, together with health professionals.”
At this stage, mobile health care will be provided for people who need to receive the vaccine in their homes.
Other people in France will be vaccinated in the third phase, expected to start in Spring.
New strain not expected to impact vaccine
France’s vaccine campaign begins as questions are being raised over whether a new strain of the Covid-19 virus identified in the UK will be resistant to vaccination.
Health authorities are concerned that the new strain is more contagious than other variants, and the World Health Organisation has said “it could also impact the efficacy of methods of diagnosis”.
But the German government announced yesterday that experts from the European Union were confident that the Covid-19 vaccines would provide effective protection against the new strain.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said: “According to what we know at the moment, following interviews with experts from European authorities, [the new strain] will not have an impact on vaccination”.
British scientific collective COG-UK, has also said they believe vaccination will still be effective. It said: “There is currently no proof that this variant (or any other studied so far) has an impact on the seriousness of the illness, or that it makes vaccination less effective, even if these two questions still require supplementary investigation.”
This was echoed by Simon Clarke, professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, who told news source AFP: “If we look at the changes the mutation brings to peak proteins, which the vaccine targets, we do not think they are sufficient enough to change the efficacy of the vaccine.”