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French Covid-19 vaccine rollout speeds up but...

...the number of people getting the vaccine remains low compared to other European countries

The French government is working to defend and modify its Covid-19 vaccination programme amid widespread criticism of the slow rate of progress.

The Ministry of Health said that 12,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were administered on Wednesday, January 6, compared to 5,000 the day previously. In total, 19,500 people have received the first dose of the vaccine. During the first week of the campaign just 516 doses were administered.

In comparison, Germany has vaccinated more than 300,000 people since its programme started on December 26, at a rate of 35,000 daily, according to Our World in Data, a collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity. While faster than France, this vaccination rate has also been criticised for being too slow.

The UK, having started its programme on December 8, has vaccinated over one million people.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said he will speak 'at length' on this issue during his press conference with Health Minister Olivier Véran, scheduled for 18:00 tonight Thursday January 7.

France has received 1,080,000 doses of the vaccine, according to CovidTracker and the Ministry.

Mr Véran has said that the speed of vaccinations will improve in the days ahead, after the US-developed Moderna vaccine was authorised by the European Medicines Agency.

France will initially receive 200,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, then 500,000 per month. This is additional to the 500,000 a week from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The slow rollout of France's Covid-19 vaccination campaign - after earlier delays on masks and testing - has prompted criticism of the government's policy.

"We don't judge the success of a six-month vaccination campaign after seven days. At the end of phase one, we will have been able to offer a vaccine to priority audiences and, by February, we will be delivering a first assessment," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

One reason for France’s slower rollout is that the country has prioritised vaccinating residents of retirement homes. Countries that have vaccinated more people so far, including the UK and Germany, have first targeted healthcare workers or opened vaccinations to a wider portion of the general public.

“Imagine you have a retirement home with 100 residents,” Mr Véran told RTL on Sunday. “If I send 100 doses of the vaccine and it turns out only 30 people can be vaccinated … we have to throw 70 doses in the bin.

“I do not wish for us to waste this product so I ask the retirement homes to calculate in advance the number of residents that we can vaccinate. That’s why it is taking time.

Read more: Leading French doctor describes getting Covid vaccine

This policy, too, has faced criticism. "A criterion that should have been integrated into the vaccine strategy is the ability to use the available doses as quickly as possible when they arrive," Aurélien Rouquet, professor of logistics at the Neoma Business School in Rouen, wrote in a forum in Le Monde.

"Given it was clear that the vaccination of all nursing home residents was going to take time, the right strategy was therefore to provide another logistical flow in parallel, in order to be able to use the vaccines as quickly as possible."

Another change of schedule to pick up the pace came with a government announcement that it will, from the end of January, start setting up "vaccination centres" in towns and cities across France to administer the vaccine to those who want it, starting, Mr Véran said with those aged 75 and over, then 65 and over, et cetera."

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