France plans to combat Covid and flu season at the same time this autumn by offering Covid booster doses and flu jabs to people aged 65 and over during the same appointment.
When flu doses become available in pharmacies on October 26, people aged 65 and over will be able to pick up a vaccine and take it with them to their appointment for a Covid booster dose in a vaccine centre.
Adults, including those aged 65 and over who are booked in for a booster jab, can go to a pharmacy to pick up a flu vaccine without a medical prescription (ordonnance).
During their appointment, they will be able to receive both vaccinations at the same time.
People aged over 80, such as those living in elderly care homes who have been eligible for Covid booster doses since September 13, will receive the two vaccines in separate appointments rather than waiting for both to be available in October.
Flu season typically begins in February and causes on average 8,000-14,000 deaths in France each year.
While barrier gestures introduced during the health crisis (such as mask wearing) are thought to have reduced cases of the flu, those who may be vulnerable to the virus are still advised to get vaccinated.
Health body la Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) has approved the giving of both vaccines during the same appointment, and said doing so will not increase potential side effects.
Laboratories such as Moderna are running trials to see whether it is possible to integrate a RNA messenger vaccine for the flu into their existing Covid vaccine, so that both could be given in a single injection in the future.
Aside from the Covid booster jab campaign, adults in France can pick up and receive the flu jab from a pharmacist, and have it administered by the pharmacist, or a midwife (for pregnant or breastfeeding women), nurse or doctor, without prescription.
Only minors need a medical prescription to pick up a flu vaccine from a pharmacy or to receive a flu jab from a nurse, the Assurance maladie says. Minors can only be injected by a doctor, a midwife or a nurse; and not a pharmacist.
Covid vaccine centres to close this winter
This comes as France’s vaccine campaign has started to slow down as the country approaches the symbolic target of having given 50 million first doses.
In a statement, the Health Ministry predicted that the country would be giving an average of 2.9 million vaccine doses per week in September, 1.3 million in October and 0.7 million in November.
As such, vaccine centres may start to close this autumn or by February 2022 at the latest, with responsibility for a reduced vaccine campaign handed over to pharmacies and doctors’ surgeries.
Of the 27 million doses planned to be given by the end of winter, 18 million are booster doses for people that are vulnerable to developing serious forms of Covid.
However, the Health Ministry did not rule out “the eventuality of booster doses for the general population” in future.