People trying to book a booster dose of the Covid jab in France are reporting delays of more than two weeks due to a shortage of appointment slots, one week after boosters were announced for all adults.
More than a million appointments are being made each day, with the total booked now more than 4.5 million since Health Minister Olivier Véran opened booster vaccinations for all over 18s.
Just two days after his announcement, he said: “Three million appointments have been made since Thursday. Let’s not drop our guard.”
A total of 18 million people are currently eligible to have a booster dose, in addition to the seven million that have already had theirs.
But online booking platform Doctolib is reporting a lack of appointment slots. On December 1, it said that it had just 290,000 slots available within the next two weeks - far from enough for the millions who are eligible to have one.
As a result, the wait for a slot is getting longer, even as deadlines approach.
Those aged 65 or over must have had a booster dose within seven months of their second injection from December 15 otherwise, their health pass will expire. All other adults have until January 15.
Vaccination centres to reopen
The government is set to reopen vaccination centres in a bid to increase the number of available slots.
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said: “Slots will be added to the platforms to allow people to book their boosters, and around 50 [vaccination] centres reopened [on Tuesday, November 30].”
Overall, at least 300 more vaccination centres will reopen to add to the 1,100 that are still in operation, with “hundreds of thousands of slots set to open” everyday as a result, Mr Attal said.
GPs and pharmacists are also seeing a sharp rise in appointments, with around half of injections being given by local doctors or pharmacy units.
Hervé Armant, a pharmacist in the Paris area, told FranceInfo: “The appointment book is full and we are adding people as much as we can.”
Mr Véran has invited 15,000 pharmacies with enough doses in stock to start offering vaccinations at the weekend, and said that those who do give jabs on Saturdays or Sundays will receive a financial bonus.
France has enough doses to vaccinate everyone with a booster who currently needs one, with an estimated current stock of 25 million. More deliveries are scheduled in the coming months.
Mr Attal said: “[On Monday and Tuesday] we had a record number of orders from healthcare professionals, which shows that there will be a rise in the number of injections in the next few weeks.”
‘Logistics not in place’
But some government opposition members have criticised the policy.
Philippe Juvin, presidential candidate for Les Républicains, told France 2: “The logistics are not in place for this crisis.” Fellow presidential candidate Xavier Bertrand said: “We must speed up the reopening of [vaccination] centres. Delays are starting to get very long, so we must massively reopen the centres.”
App access and calls for patience
Apps such as Covidliste and Vite Ma Dose say they are working to ensure their platforms are as simple as possible to use.
And newspaper Le Parisien calculated that last weekend, around 64% of the appointment slots on popular app Doctolib were booked by people aged under 50.
While this has been hailed as a success in terms of younger people having their boosters, some have highlighted that it is important for less tech-savvy, older people to also have access to booking.
Laure Pain, manager of the Covid-19 department at the Bas-Rhin ARS (Agence Régionale de Santé), told France Bleu Alsace: “We need a bit of patience. We must also maintain vaccinations for the over-50s. We’ve already seen [a rush like this].
“Everyone gets annoyed, but in the end, everyone gets vaccinated.”