A row has erupted over the speed of France’s Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, after a medical director said the country was a “laughing stock”, but the government defended its strategy, as workers over 50 begin to be vaccinated.
It comes as the country begins vaccinations for healthcare workers aged over 50. This itself was announced by Health Minister Olivier Véran, in response to criticism that France was vaccinating too slowly.
At the time of writing, 352 people have been vaccinated against Covid-19. This compares to more than 131,626 in Germany and more than 940,000 in the UK - although both countries have also received criticism for their own management of the vaccine roll-out.
Frédéric Adnet, medical director of emergency service the SAMU of Seine-Saint-Denis, and the head of emergency at the Avicenne hospital in Bobigny, has told news service FranceInfo that France is “the laughing stock of the entire world” as a result of what he says is the “obvious delay” in rolling out the vaccine.
He said: “This morning I looked at the global statistics on vaccination levels, and we are the last. Not only in Europe, but across the whole world. In my opinion, it is catastrophic. There has been a delay in starting, which is due, in my view, to administrative procedures which are too heavy, when we should be treating this like any other medication.
“We should vaccinate against Covid the same way we vaccinate against ‘flu, and stop all these precautionary procedures before we vaccinate people.
“It is becoming a joke, we are starting to become ridiculous. I think our strategy was right [at the beginning]. Start by vaccinating the most vulnerable people, because we will start saving lives. And in the second phase, we should try to stop the epidemic by vaccinating everyone.
“What I didn’t expect, was that by vaccinating the most vulnerable, we have this heavy [admin] around it, consent, medical visits, thinking time...which makes it inefficient because we can’t vaccinate patients en masse. I think we should simplify it completely.”
Dr Adnet said that he believes that all healthcare workers should now have access to the vaccination, through the hospitals at which they work. He said that he would be ready to set up a vaccination station for all his staff in his emergency unit, and vaccinate all the personnel on-site.
He said: “It would be quick. I have the means, I have the space. I just don’t have the vaccine doses.”
The government has defended its strategy.
Yesterday, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told newspaper Le Parisien: “We cannot judge the success of a six-month vaccination campaign after seven days.
“We have the same number of [vaccine] doses, but we have chosen a different path. The choice to protect more at-risk people, for which there were more logistical precautions to take, led us to make a more gradual start. We will catch up.
“Of course, this doesn’t mean we are justifying useless delays. The speed-up that the President has asked for is already on track: We will strengthen the means to deliver more vaccines to elderly care homes. From this weekend, we will start vaccinating carers aged over 50, which had previously been scheduled to start in February.”
Over 50s vaccination in ‘high demand’
Vaccinations for healthcare workers aged over 50 has now started in France, beginning with the Ambroise Paré de Boulogne-Billancourt hospital in Hauts-de-Seine on January 1, authorised by major hospital group l'Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP).
Yesterday, vaccinations began for workers aged over 50 at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris.
Professor Frédéric Batteux, at Hôtel-Dieu, told FranceInfo: “We have been very busy, there is very high demand across all healthcare workers, nurses, carers, doctors, pharmacists.”
Even healthcare workers who do not work at the hospital - such as town pharmacists and physiotherapists - have been invited to be vaccinated.
Dr Jean Paul Viard, who is supervising the vaccination at Hôtel-Dieu, said: “If we want healthcare workers in hospital, they must be protected. There have been many hospital services that had a high number of ill workers, and that very much hindered the care available.”
Professor Claire Poyart, doctor representative at Hôtel-Dieu, said that she had been vaccinated as soon as possible “to convince my colleagues, carers and hospital workers, to come to get vaccinated. You don’t even feel the jab.”
She said: “I have seen children with Covid, and parents who have died of Covid. This is a very serious illness, and there is no doubt that we must be vaccinated.”
From tomorrow (Monday January 4), all health workers aged 50 and over in France will officially be eligible for vaccination. This amounts to around 1.2 million people.