France is set to dramatically increase the speed of its vaccination programme in April with President Emmanuel Macron saying last week that vaccinations should take place “morning, noon, and night”.
So far 7,742,446 people have received a first dose of the vaccine in France, equivalent to 14.8% of the adult population; of which 2,651,777 (5.1%) have received two doses.
The government has said it aims to give first vaccinations to 10 million people – covering those most vulnerable to Covid-19 – by mid-April, but now looks set to exceed this target.
Here is why the vaccination programme should get faster from now on.
1. Two million extra doses from Italian stock are for France
France is to receive at least two million extra doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a stock of 29 million in Italy.
The stocks were found during a government inspection of an AstraZeneca plant, near Rome.
AstraZeneca has said it would be unable to honour European demand for the vaccine, and would only deliver a third of the 90 million doses ordered by the EU in the first quarter.
Despite initially thinking that the laboratory was trying to conceal the doses from the EU market they were in fact bound for distribution to countries in the EU and the developing world after quality control checks had been completed.
2. Pfizer vaccine to be stored at lower temperatures
The Pfizer vaccine can now be stored in standard pharmacy freezers, the European Medicines Agency has decided.
Prior to this, the vaccine had to be stored in specialist freezers at -80C. It can now be stored between -15 and -25C.
Improving the ease of storage is expected to drastically increase distribution.
Gilles Bonnefond, president of l'Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine, told news source FranceInfo that pharmacists would now have the potential to vaccinate “ten times more people”.
He said: “We pharmacists can [now] inject a million doses per week. It’s excellent news.”
3. Johnson & Johnson deliveries due in France in April
The Janssen vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, is due to be delivered to France in April, with the government hoping to receive 2.7 million doses.
The exact number of doses to be delivered has not yet been confirmed, but if it is 2.7 million, then France could expect to have received total deliveries of 34.7 million doses of all vaccines by the end of April.
In addition, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single shot to be effective, as opposed to other vaccines which require two doses.
4. Vets and dentists can now also vaccinate
Vets and dentists have been given authorisation to administer Covid vaccines, along with medical students, laboratory technicians and others.
The decision from France’s Haute Autorité de Santé will allow 252,000 more professionals to participate in the vaccine campaign.
5. Giant vaccine centres opening throughout France
France is to open at least 35 mass vaccine centres in April, which will have the capacity to vaccinate several thousand people per day.
Health Minister Olivier Véran has said that his long-term goal is to open “one or two megacentres per department”, meaning 100 to 200 across the entire country.
Each centre will be able to give 1,000-2,000 vaccinations per day.
In Toulouse, one of the giant centres has already opened in the city’s Parc des expositions.
Over the weekend of March 27-28 more than 200 health professionals were able to give up to 3,800 doses to eligible people with appointments in the Toulouse centre.
6. Vaccine production to start in France
Production in France will begin with the Pfizer vaccine factory in Eure-et-Loir from April 7, followed by Moderna in Indre-et-Loire, and CureVac in Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
The CureVac vaccine has not yet been submitted for approval to the EU, but is expected to be submitted before June.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi will also start producing American competitor Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, after failing to produce their own.
Pending approval from US and European regulators, production will begin on a Sanofi site in Marcy-l'Étoile (Rhône) in the third quarter of 2021, with the group expecting to produce 12 million doses per month.
Sanofi is already planning to produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine from this summer.