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Why Covid-19 vaccine rollout is so slow in France

President Emmanuel Macron has criticised the pace of the vaccine rollout

Covid-19 vaccinations in France will speed up, health officials have promised, following criticism from experts about the rate at which people are being immunised a week after the programme began in France.

In total 516 people had received the first dose of the two-jab vaccine by the end of New Year's Day, according to data website CovidTracker.

In comparison, Germany has inoculated 238,000 people, and the United Kingdom's 1 million, after it became the first Western nation to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 2 December.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has said the aim was to get 1 million people in France vaccinated by the end of January. According to CovidTracker that would require inoculating 33,316 people every day from now until the end of the month.

President Emmanuel Macron criticised the 'family stroll' pace of the vaccine rollout, saying it "does not meet the needs of the moment, nor the French needs", according to sources close to the Elysée.

The French National Academy of Medicine has been joined by numerous health experts in criticising the rollout. Leading geneticist Axel Kahn branded the slow start to the campaign a "disaster".

In a damning post on his website, Kahn said the main reason for the delay, 'is the administrative burden and the procedural rigidity of the state bodies, especially in the health field'.

It dictated, he said, the decision to start the vaccination programme in retirement homes. But he also blamed government fear of the reaction of anti-vaxxers and gilets jaune, who he said must be 'jubilant' at the slow pace of delivery.

"The authorities are very proud to announce the sites where to report adverse reactions, declare themselves ready to interrupt the campaign if necessary ... But the hope of the vaccine, the path it traces, the extraordinary scientific adventure it represents? Almost nothing," he wrote.

Until now, seniors in an EHPAD establishment first get an appointment with a doctor who explains everything relating to the vaccine in order to get consent from the patient, and then a second appointment to administer the vaccine, which can lengthen the process by four days.

At the weekend, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said health workers over the age of 50 would have access to the vaccine from Monday, January 4, instead of from February as originally planned. 

Health Minister Olivier Véran also vowed to step up the pace of vaccinations for elderly people, by allowing the vaccination to be administered as soon as consent is given.

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