Pensioners in France are struggling to book Covid-19 vaccination appointments, as hospitals are being warned to prepare for a new epidemic spike - even as hospital pressure is currently decreasing.
People aged 75 and over are reporting that there are no vaccination appointments available to book.
One woman, Marie-Thérèse Quemerais, 76, who lives in Rennes, Ille-et-Vilaine, told news service FranceInfo: “I have been trying everyday, morning and night, and there are no slots available.” She said the stress of trying and failing to book everyday was affecting her health.
One man said: “Every day I get the same negative response: ‘There are no appointments available’, and that’s it.”
Richard Mallié, mayor of Bouc-Bel-Air in Bouches-du-Rhône, said: “I blame the government a bit. We knew that we would not be able to vaccine everyone [immediately]. We should have said upfront that people would be at risk of having to wait.”
Connexion readers have also contacted us to say that they have had to wait on the phone for hours over several days to get through to vaccination centres, and/or that their nearby centres have suspended booking as they have no more vaccine doses available.
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.
Dr Véran has addressed the issue several times, including promising in late January that a “call back” waiting list system would be in place for appointments, so people would only have to call once in order to register for a future slot, when it became available.
But France Télévisions’ investigative news team at L'Oeil du 20 Heures has found that this system was never formally established in vaccination centres across the country.
The Health Ministry later said that the health minister’s words had been a “recommendation” for vaccination centres to implement such a system themselves.
Dr Véran said on February 9 that all vaccination appointments are fully booked until the end of February and that new slots would be open in March.
France has had issues maintaining constant supply of the vaccines, amid controversial EU delays from manufacturers including Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
- Covid France: ‘I had to try for days to book vaccination’
- Is there a waiting list system for Covid jabs in France?
- Why have some areas of France reported a lack of Covid jabs?
New epidemic spike
It comes as hospitals and clinics in France have been warned to prepare for a potential new influx of patients and “another epidemic surge”.
Hospitals have been advised to postpone non-urgent operations, and to be ready in anticipation of a new epidemic spike linked to the new virus variants from the UK, Brazil, and South Africa.
The warning was sent to hospitals, clinics, and regional health agencies (ARS) by the Health Ministry, health authority Direction générale de la Santé (DGS) and healthcare provider Direction générale de l'offre de soins (DGOS).
In a statement to news network BFMTV, the DGS said: “This is an anticipatory measure, which is taking into account the health pressure that is still high.
“Its objective is to mobilise all the healthcare workers in the country, to prepare for another epidemic surge, which - as the variants are spreading - could happen.”
Plans involve increasing the number of beds available by postponing non-urgent operations in a “gradual and appropriate way”, to keep units open in case of new patients affected by the variants and to have more “reserve” staff timetabled to work.
Health staff will now also be required to follow stricter rules. Those who test positive for the initial virus or the UK variant, will need to self-isolate for seven days; those who test positive for the South African or Brazilian variant, for ten days.
Hospital pressure eases... for now
Despite the new warnings, pressure across hospitals in France is currently on the decrease.
There were 9,921 new hospitalisations for Covid-19 cases over the past seven days - under the symbolic 10,000 threshold - including 1,763 admissions to intensive care, the most recent Santé publique France (SPF) figures show.
These numbers have been relatively stable since the start of the year.
In the previous 24 hours, there were 651 new hospital admissions, compared to 1,085 the day before; and 113 new intensive care admissions, compared to 191 the day before.