The new vaccination campaign will now start on October 2 two week earlier than first planned due to the increase in infections
France has brought forward its new Covid vaccination campaign by two weeks due to a continuing rise in new infections.
The campaign, which had been scheduled to start at the same time as the winter flu vaccinations on October 17, will now begin on October 2.
What is the current situation?
Tracking of Covid-19 is not as precise as it was previously, in part due to fewer tests as well as vigilance has been lowered thanks to the lower mortality and infection rate since spring 2023. The monitoring site CovidTracker stopped publishing infection figures in March.
Whereas nearly seven million people were actively infected with the virus in February 1, 2022, since spring 2023 the number of actively infected patients has been in the tens of thousands.
However, there are causes for concern. Benjamin Davido, an infectious disease specialist at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Garches (Hauts-de-Seine), told FranceInfo that last year’s Covid vaccination campaign did not fulfil its aims.
“There was definitely a period of vaccination fatigue,” he says. “Today, we are treating patients who, unfortunately, were not vaccinated.”
Cases have been rising again since July, according to new data, with 54,699 new cases diagnosed by GPs in the week of September 4-10.
Mr Davido says this is in part due to lower public vigilance.
“People do not know that they have Covid today because they are not testing themselves, not isolating and not wearing masks,” he said. “We are again in a situation where people are breathing contaminated air.”
“Hospital consultations have increased by 30% this week, and 30% of these patients are then hospitalised,” said Mr Davido. “It is still summer, the weather is still warm and these figures suggest a bad outlook for this autumn, and perhaps, a hard winter.”
The Covid-19 Omicron subvariant XBB1.5 is currently the main variant in France. However, the spectre of other strains of Omicron, such as Pirola (BA.2.86) and Eris (EG.5), which could prove more resistant to vaccination, is of concern to health authorities.
“We think that infections have increased by around 30 percent since last week,” said Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau on Franceinfo. “While we have to be careful with this figure, the virus is in circulation and we will all see cases around us.”
“We have a vaccine that is adapted to the variants behind the large majority of cases in France,” he added. “There are around 13.5m doses of the vaccine ready.”
“The aim is for people to have two boosters each year,” said Mr Rousseau. “Not just people older than 80 and the 15 to 20 million people with comorbidities, but also anyone over 65.”
What is the new vaccination campaign?
The new vaccination campaign on October 2 will primarily target people risk factors:
- The over 65s
- People with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant women
- People in care homes
However, anyone not in these groups can also have a booster on request.
The vaccinations are free, and can be performed by GPs, pharmacists, nurses or midwives.
People are recommended to have two boosters at six month intervals in order to keep their resistance to the virus.
Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are used in France.
Visit www.sante.fr for more information on where you can find a vaccination.
Mr Davido told FranceInfo that he welcomed the government’s decision to move the date of the vaccination campaign forward.
“We can’t skimp on this vaccination campaign. It’s good news that it has been brought forward if we want to avoid any bad surprises, like the return of a triple epidemic [of Covid-19] along with bronchiolitis and a particularly difficult flu, as we had last year.”
Brigitte Autran president of government's advisory body on infectious disease, Covars, is quick to downplay any sense that the early vaccination campaign is due to panic.
"There is currently no massive increase in hospitalisations," she said.
She told Le Monde that while the number of new infections remains under control, the new vaccination campaign was necessary to preempt the possibility of it from spiraling out of control with new variants.
The move to advance the booster vaccination campaign in France comes after the UK took a similar step to start its autumn booster campaign early, on September 11.