The shortage of flu vaccinations is worsening in France, with waiting lists getting longer and stocks dropping, despite new orders in early November and the government urging people to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Authorities had advised at-risk people to get the flu vaccination as soon as possible this year, in a bid to protect people’s immune systems and to avoid adding extra serious flu cases to already-overloaded hospitals dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.
The vaccination campaign began in October with stocks of the vaccine reportedly running out soon after. Almost seven million doses were given in the first two weeks of the campaign - more than twice the number given over two months last year.
New orders were placed in November, but already these new supplies are said to be running low.
Pharmacies have opened waiting lists, but many of these now include thousands of names and are weeks-long. Many people have reported not being able to access a vaccination - even those who usually get the jab every year, such as the elderly, or those with at-risk conditions.
Jean-Claude Ratinaud, an octogenarian resident of Blagnac in the Haute-Garonne, Occitanie, who usually gets the flu vaccine every year but is still on a waiting list told local newspaper La Dépêche: “It is all very well saying that we will have a vaccination for coronavirus, but we should already be able to get a vaccine for the flu.”
“I do not call every day but even when I do call regularly, they always tell me the same thing: ‘We are waiting’.”
Ahead of the new campaign, the government was careful to highlight those deemed “priority”, such as health professionals, people aged 65 and over, people with existing health problems, or those who care for infants.
However some pharmacies reportedly did not stop giving vaccines to people who did not fit these categories, leading to a shortage for those who really need it. Secret investigations by news service FranceInfo found that some pharmacies were giving the jab to anyone who asked.
The health ministry has said that it is aiming to provide 16 million flu vaccine doses overall across the season and has promised more deliveries to come.
More vaccinations ‘a good thing’
Gilles Bonnefond, president of pharmacist union l’Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO), spoke to The Connexion earlier this month to explain the major reasons for the shortage.
Mr Bonnefond also told FranceInfo: “If we get these [16 million] doses, it will be just about enough. But we must ensure that these doses are available.
“The state is preparing to get doses from the European market for the month of December. I am waiting to be certain that labs have indeed put extra doses on the market...and to see if these doses will be effectively available in pharmacies.”
Mr Bonnefond said that it was “unacceptable” for labs to delay deliveries of the vaccine.
He said: “We will explain to the public that we might need to wait a little for the promised deliveries. However when we are in the healthcare field, in the business of prevention, with such a health risk as we have, we must have a fast reaction from pharmaceutical laboratories.”
He remained optimistic about people’s behaviour in attempting to get a jab, and said that most people had not jumped the queue.
He said: “I have seen very few [non-priority] people trying to get a vaccine. I think the public has largely respected the guidelines. That is reassuring. We can see that when there is a public health danger, contrary to what one might believe, the public does listen to the guidelines.
“What happened is that priority people came out in very, very big numbers.”
Mr Bonnefond said he was optimistic about vaccination, days after a poll by Ipsos on November 5 showed that only 54% of people in France would get vaccinated against Covid-19 if a vaccine were available.
But Mr Bonnefond said: “Clearly, the public wants to get vaccines, because we vaccinated five million people in five days [at the start of the flu campaign]. That is almost half the number that we did in the entire campaign last year.
“That is a return to vaccination; a return to prevention. And that is good news from the perspective of the arrival of vaccinations against Covid-19. That is the positive side of the epidemic, we are finding that the public is working on prevention which is a good thing.”