A record 63,000 booster jab appointments were booked on Friday (November 5) on popular medical appointments site doctolib.com as news broke that President Emmanuel Macron is to make a TV speech tomorrow about managing Covid over winter.
He added that bookings were up 61% compared to the previous week.
The rush to book comes as the president is set to speak on TV tomorrow at 20:00 and is speculated to be linked to fears of new health restrictions in a context where the Covid figures appear to be worsening.
Daily new case rates (and the incidence rates per 100,000 of the population) are up 21% over the last week and new hospitalisations up 13%.
The rush may partly be linked to speculations that the president's announcements will include making a booster dose mandatory for the most vulnerable, possibly with those concerned no longer having access to the health pass if they do not take one. Many people also believe that boosters will eventually be opened up to all over-12s, in view of the fact that studies have shown that the vaccination decreases in effectiveness over time.
Apart from addressing possible new rules on booster jabs, the president is expected tomorrow to talk generally about the government’s plans for managing Covid infections over the colder months.
He is also expected to give an update on “the economic recovery, the reforms that are being carried out in France and on all the issues that affect our country" said Gabriel Attal, the government’s spokesman.
The booster dose campaign began on September 1. As of November 4, 3.4 million people in France had received a third injection.
Yet, there are large variations between groups: 74% of residents in elderly care homes have received a booster, compared to just 19% of the over-65s with underlying conditions.
Booster doses are intended to extend the coverage against Covid among older people or those at higher risk of a severe form of the virus, along with those who only received the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine.
Recipients must have had their last dose at least six months ago.
So far, only 43% of the population in France is eligible.
Situation worsening considerably in Europe
The WHO has warned that the situation in Europe could become “alarming” by February 2022.
Hans Kluge, regional director of the WHO in Europe, has predicted as many as 500,000 extra deaths linked to Covid in Europe by then, “if we stay on this trajectory”. This is partly due to a lack of vaccination in Eastern European countries, including Russia, Romania and Ukraine, he said.
Vaccination levels in those countries range from 30-40%. In contrast, in France, 74.9% have had all doses required.
Mandatory third doses?
The French government is said to be “seriously” considering the option to make booster doses mandatory for those most at-risk.
Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the law commission in the Assemblée nationale, has said that the decision will “depend on what health authorities tell us”, and that details of the third dose could be included on the health pass.
She told FranceInfo: “It makes sense. You are protected against Covid-19 when your vaccine is active, so if after a while it is no longer active and you need a booster dose, then there is some logic in linking that booster dose to the health pass.
“We are not out of the woods yet.”
Rising cases and more masks, but barrier gestures drop
It comes as the health situation worsens considerably in France, and Europe as a whole. Daily cases across the country are rising, among all age groups and all regions.
The most recent figures show that there were 8,547 cases and 10 deaths confirmed in the past 24 hours, along with 1,900 new hospitalisations over the past seven days.
A lack of barrier measures and people choosing to no longer wear masks at indoor events are among the reasons suggested for the rise.
Yet epidemiologist Dr Antoine Flahaut told FranceInfo: “All the areas where we might spend several hours indoors are still areas at high risk of contamination.”
Some areas have already started to bring back anti-Covid measures, including 39 departments that once again made masks mandatory in primary schools from today (November 8), bringing the total number of departments with the rule to 61.