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Covid, flu and bronchiolitis are ‘hitting hard’ in France this year

‘Vaccination fatigue’ is cited as one potential reason for a low uptake among eligible and at-risk groups

A photo of a medical team moving fast to move a patient on a bed

Hospitals in Paris are already reporting overwhelm faced with the triple threat of Covid, seasonal flu, and bronchiolitis Pic: Medical-R / Shutterstock

Doctors and pharmacists in France have warned that Covid, flu and bronchiolitis are “hitting hard” this year due to a poor uptake of vaccination. Paris hospitals report overwhelming numbers of patients.

Seasonal flu is spreading across the country, within an already-stretched health context of continuing Covid and epidemic levels of bronchiolitis, health authorities said this week.

Last week saw a “rise in all flu indicators”, said Santé publique France. This trend affected all age groups but was more marked in children under age 15.

Philippe Besset, pharmacist and president of the professional union FSPF, told BFMTV: “It will be very hard this year. It is essential to renew your vaccinations.”

Low vaccination uptake

Earlier this week, the two main pharmacist unions warned that the uptake of seasonal flu vaccinations is “significantly behind” compared to last year. This is particularly true for the most at-risk groups, figures show. 

These groups include people aged 65 and over, people with chronic illnesses, and pregnant women.

Mr Besset said: “It’s sort of catastrophic this year.” He suggested that the slow uptake could be due to a “general fatigue towards vaccination, even among those for whom it’s most necessary”. 

He said: “It can probably be explained by a kind of weariness of the population towards always hearing about vaccinations. We are coming out of several waves of Covid…and it’s becoming more complicated.”

He added that it would be very difficult to catch up on such a delay without a “significant communication campaign”.

Read more: How to get flu jab in France - where to get vaccinated this winter 

Hospitals under pressure from flu, bronchiolitis and Covid

The number of seasonal flu cases is still relatively low in France. It is not, for now, putting the healthcare system at significant risk. However, the number of cases has spiked considerably and is up two-thirds this week compared to the last. 

The number of people who were admitted to emergency care in hospital due to flu jumped by 39% last week.

Hospitals are already dealing with a bronchiolitis epidemic, which is affecting babies the most, and is at unprecedented levels this year. Hospitalisations for bronchiolitis are “at very high levels”, said the Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP).

Read more: Bronchiolitis epidemic arrives early in France this year 

Cases of bronchiolitis represent “half of the hospitalisations after emergency admission among infants under two”, for the third consecutive week, the AP-HP said. In total, 6,882 children under two were seen by emergency services in the week of November 14-20, a jump of 24% compared to the week before.

Of these, 2,552 children were hospitalised. Over the past two weeks, hospitalisations and emergency care admissions have hit a “new 10-year record high”, said the AP-HP.

Covid has also seen a rebound, with a rise in hospitalisations over the past few days. 

Paris hospitals report being ‘overwhelmed’

In Paris, which is always hit particularly hard by healthcare crises, hospitals have already started to report “overwhelm” faced with this triple threat.

Professor Rémi Salomon, president of the medical commission at the AP-HP, said that “too many patients are arriving” and there is “not enough staff to welcome them or keep beds open”.

He said that emergency care units were becoming “overwhelmed once again, because of viruses going round”. He said that as well as Covid, bronchiolitis among infants, and flu among the elderly, were “strong” this year.

In a statement, director general of AP-HP, Nicolas Revel, and Professor Salomon wrote that “emergency services at the AP-HP have seen difficulties over the past few days” when it comes to finding beds.

This is causing a “high level of stress among healthcare staff, who are finding themselves in a situation where they know they can’t give adequate care”, said Professor Solomon on FranceInter.

Since 2019, there are 10% fewer healthcare workers across the 38 AP-HP hospitals, with 16% of beds being forced to close in October. This is twice as many closures as would have been seen before Covid.

Santé publique France said: “In this context, it is highly recommended that at-risk people and health professionals get vaccinated against flu without delay.”

Read more: Why has France lost 80,000 hospital beds in 20 years? 

National healthcare plan

Two weeks ago, Health Minister François Braun unveiled a national emergency plan, dubbed ORSAN, to offer support during exceptionally-busy health situations. 

He said: “[This will] help strengthen resources for the ARS (Agences régionales de santé) and enable hospitals to concentrate on this particularly acute problem now.”

It comes as the minister also announced a €400million plan to help paediatric services. 

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