France has the capacity to vaccinate 70 million people in the country by the end of August, the health minister has said, amid criticism that the rollout is moving too slowly, and calls for a new lockdown.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said this would happen “if all of the vaccines that have been ordered are approved by global and European health authorities”.
The minister was speaking last night on news programme 20 Heures, on channel TF1.
He said that “probably 1.3 to 1.4 million” people would be vaccinated by the end of January - an increase on the one million target previously announced.
This would rise to “4 million by the end of February, 9 million by the month of March, 20 million by the end of April, 30 million by the end of May, 43 million by the end of June, 57 million by the end of at least July, and 70 million - meaning the entire population - by the end of August”, he said.
He added that “people aged 75 and above who are keen to be vaccinated will be before the end of the month of March”.
In a statement to the Senate earlier that day, the minister said that the target was “15 million people vaccinated before the summer [including] a major part of the most at-risk population”.
He said: “Counting all the people who have chronic illnesses, the older people aged 60 and above, we are close to 25-30 million people, which means that even with the best organisation and all the orders arriving on time, we will only be able to have vaccinated the most vulnerable people by the summer.”
This is one of the reasons that the government has requested an extension to the state of health emergency until the summer or even the autumn.
The government’s targets rely on four vaccines being used in France, starting from March onwards: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford University, and CureVac.
No more homemade masks
At the same time, the health minister also warned people to no longer use homemade face masks or less-filtering fabric ones, as they have been judged not effective enough against the new variants of the virus.
He said: “The HCSP [health body le Haut conseil de la santé publique] recommends that the public - and I make the same recommendation - that they should no longer use homemade masks.”
New variants and lockdown calls
It comes as France and the EU discuss ways to limit the spread of the new Covid variants, and the health minister has considered whether harsher measures are needed to contain the spread.
So far, France has distanced itself from the idea of a third lockdown and preferred to stick with the current curfew measures, despite some high-profile scientists and doctors suggesting that a new confinement is necessary.
The health minister also said: “We have always taken decisions based on the health pressure. Today, the curfew is limiting the spread of the virus, but tomorrow, if the situation worsens, we will take harsher measures.”
Similarly, critics have doubted whether France’s vaccination campaign will reach its ambitious targets, as it has so far been slower than other European countries to roll out the vaccine.