A widespread Covid-19 vaccination campaign is under way across France but a return to normality is still at least six months away.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said we will have to continue living with masks, tests, health protocols and quarantines until at least June.
People in France called to remain prudent for three to six months: 'It is the final effort'
Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the Conseil Scientifique, which advises the government on Covid-19 issues, said: “The arrival of vaccinations will not have an impact on the first quarter of 2021 and very little on the second. “The start of the year will not be different to 2020.”
He called for people in France to remain prudent for three to six months, saying “it is the final effort”.
His statement came before the news of how quickly a new variant of the virus identified in England is spreading. However there is no suggestion that the vaccines will no longer work because of this variant.
No date has been set for the 20.00- 06.00 curfew to end but it is assumed it will be lifted by January 20 if, as hoped, restaurants can reopen then.
Prof Delfraissy outlined advances that could help to limit the virus’s impact in coming months, such as saliva tests and new treatments.
The government’s vaccination plan consists of three phases and will see around one million of the most vulnerable people vaccinated in the first six to eight weeks of the year.
These will be elderly people in retirement homes or other health institutions, as well as staff there.
From the second half of February, a further 14million will be eligible. This will run in age order, starting with people aged 75 and over, prioritising those with health conditions which make them more vulnerable.
Then those aged 65 to 74, again prioritising anyone with health conditions, followed by people working in the health sector aged 50 and over with one or more relevant conditions.
By the end of spring, vaccinations are set to be rolled out to the remaining 50million residents
Two doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccination, the first set to receive approval in France, are needed, to be given around three weeks apart.
Health authorities estimate that they will have enough doses to vaccinate seven million people by the end of March, using different vaccines.
It is hoped a vaccine by Moderna will obtain EU approval on January 6.
Another by AstraZeneca will take longer and, if there are delays in approval, available doses in the first months of the year could drop by several million. By the end of June the government aims to have enough doses to have vaccinated up to 27million people (40% of the population).
France has reserved 200million doses of vaccine for 2021
Anyone receiving the vaccine as part of phase one will be given it at their retirement or care home.
For the other phases, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) has advised that the vaccine is at first administered under the supervision of local GPs. The HAS said that once the number of doses and types of vaccines rise, this could be extended to all nurses and pharmacists.
The vaccine will be free to residents and is not obligatory. It has not yet been clarified if eligible people will receive a letter, be contacted by their surgery, or have to contact their doctor to be put on a list. Letters are sent out for flu vaccination. There will be three steps to the vaccination process: Consultation, vaccination and follow- up. During the consultation, the doctor or other health professional will give the patient a check-up to make sure there are no foreseeable issues. This can be carried out remotely via a video call.
The doctor or health professional giving the vaccine will inform the patient of the benefits and risks of vaccination before obtaining their written consent. There will be a health follow-up after vaccination that will be managed by the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament and the Assurance maladie. This will allow patients to report any undesirable side-effects, no matter how minor.
How long the immunity given by vaccinations will last remains to be seen, as clinical trials carried out on the vaccine candidates were not designed to test long-term immunity.
One study of the Moderna candidate vaccination found that its effectiveness remained consistent three months after the second dose was given to patients.
BioNTech chief executive Uğur Şahin said he expects protection from the vaccination to last “months or even years”. There is not yet enough data to know if people who receive the vaccine can still spread the virus.
It could be that people who are immune can still carry the virus in their noses and mouths and thus will still be able to spread it.
A vaccination passport?
Proposals for a ‘green passport’ for people in France who get the Covid-19 vaccine were discussed by politicians during a presentation on France’s vaccination strategy.
The proposed document would allow holders to resume such things as going to restaurants or cultural activities once they had been vaccinated.
Valérie Six, UDI MP for the Nord department, told Parliament: “We could follow Israel’s example on this. It would allow people to resume normal life.”
However, the head of the infectious diseases department at Paris’s Tenon hospital, Professor Gilles Pialoux, criticised the idea, saying it would risk being seen as the state coercing people into being vaccinated.
No decision was made on the plan or any date set for re-discussion.