Health Minister Olivier Véran has defended France’s slow start to vaccinating people against Covid-19 by saying, “what is important is that we start out on the right foot and are capable of accelerating [the roll-out]”.
France began its vaccination campaign against Covid-19 on December 27, prioritising residents of retirement homes, but has so far only administered 5,000 doses. Neighbouring country Germany, which started its roll-out one day before France, has vaccinated over 250,000 people.
Mr Véran, speaking to radio network RTL yesterday, said he wished to “amplify, accelerate and simplify" the vaccination strategy.
Vaccinating care home residents is complicated
One reason for France’s slower roll-out is that the country has prioritised vaccinating the most vulnerable people first, meaning residents of retirement homes. Countries that have vaccinated more people so far, including the UK and Germany, have first targeted healthcare workers or the general public.
“Imagine you have a retirement home with 100 residents,” Mr Véran told RTL.
“If I send 100 doses of the vaccine and it turns out only 30 people can be vaccinated, either because of refusals or because some people have been ill recently, that means we have to throw 70 doses in the bin.
“I do not wish for us to waste this product so I ask the retirement homes to calculate in advance the number of residents that we can vaccinate. That’s why it is taking time.
“If you ask the retirement home federations, no one will tell you we are taking too long. It is them who are asking us to wait,” he said.
In the same interview, Mr Véran announced that citizens over the age of 75 (not just care home residents) will begin to be vaccinated before the end of January. This step was initially scheduled for February or March.
He also said the vaccine will be available from today (January 5) for firefighters, emergency health service workers and home helpers over the age of 50.
Scepticism and consent
France is the only European country where written consent is required before receiving the vaccination. This can lead to delays in some cases where an elderly or ill person is not able to give their consent and a family member has to be contacted.
One reason for this consent requirement is to try to increase trust in the vaccine.
A survey commissioned by BFMTV in December, 2020, found that 49% of the 1,005 people polled said they would refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccination in France.
Mr Véran announced yesterday that this consent procedure would be simplified.
He said the pre-vaccination consultation will be replaced by a more direct process and more health workers will be able to administer the vaccines under the supervision of a doctor.
Nous simplifions la campagne de vaccination :— Olivier Véran (@olivierveran) January 5, 2021
➖ En remplaçant la consultation pré-vaccinale par un dispositif plus direct
➖ Davantage de soignants pourront vacciner sous la responsabilité d'un médecin
➖ Pré-inscription par internet, téléphone ou sur @TousAntiCovid pic.twitter.com/rSo7JiYczp
Does France have enough vaccine doses?
The government hopes to have vaccinated one million people by the end of February, roughly 15,000 per day.
Mr Véran said that the pace and intensity of deliveries to France is going to increase at a European level.
“Today we have a delivery rate of 500,000 doses per week of Pfizer’s vaccine. We will soon have, if it is validated on Wednesday (January 6) by the European Medicines Agency, 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine per month,” he said.
This would give France more than enough doses to achieve its targets.
Fast start just symbolic?
France is not the only country to have a slow start to its vaccination campaign.
The Netherlands is set to vaccinate its first patient tomorrow, having moved the start date forward from January 8. It is the last EU country to begin its roll-out.
The country’s health minister, Hugo de Jonge, said last month that it would be “irresponsible” to fast-track the vaccination campaign and that other countries were “starting earlier for symbolic reasons”.
France’s health minister Mr Véran has said that the “vaccination rate will catch up with that of our neighbours in the coming days”.
The number of vaccination centres will be increased from 100 to 300 in France by next week and to between 500 to 600 by the end of January, Mr Véran said.
When will the vaccines have an impact on the spread of the virus?
The number of cases in France is expected to increase over January after Christmas and New Year celebrations.
The goal of vaccinating one million people by the end of February represents a proportion of around 1.5% of the population. This figure is too low to provide any sort of herd immunity in the short term.
However, the vaccines will still have an effect.
By vaccinating the most vulnerable people, France should see a reduction in the number of deaths by Covid-19.
French epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet said that the vaccination roll-out is not going fast enough but it was also too early to judge.
“It is not over the next fortnight or the next month that the effectiveness of the vaccination campaign will be judged,” he told BFMTV on Sunday (January 3).
He said that a noticeable impact should be seen by the end of March when five to ten million people have been vaccinated.