French doctors: Not enough time to order AstraZeneca vaccine

Private-practice doctors in France are authorised to administer the Covid jab from February 25 - but were given less than a week to order the doses

16 February 2021
By Joanna York

Pharmacists in France have said that private-practice doctors have not been given enough time to go through the registration process which would allow them to start administering Covid vaccines next week.

From February 25, private-practice doctors in France are authorised to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 50-64 with existing medical conditions. 

But, the current procedure gives doctors from private practices until the evening of Wednesday, February 17, to register with a pharmacy of their choice in order to receive 10 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine the following week.

This process was announced by the health ministry on Friday, February 12, giving doctors less than a week to act.

Vaccine doses could go to waste 

President of pharmacists’ union FSPF Philippe Besset told news source BFMTV: “For the health ministry to release an urgent statement on Friday… How do you expect everyone to know the system by Wednesday? We will lose time getting things started when, with the Covid variants, we don’t have time to lose.”

He said the health ministry’s decision had been taken “on the fly” even though “we [pharmacists] have been working on a system for the supply of provisions in towns for over a month”. 

The online sign-up system for doctors was open by the morning of Monday, February 15, and had already been used by around 2,000 GPs by lunchtime, Mr Besset said. 

But in order to distribute the 700,000 anticipated doses, 70,000 doctors must sign up by the evening on Wednesday, February 17, with numbers at the time “well below that”. 

In this context, Mr Besset raised concerns that France “risks not using the doses” it has ordered for next week, as well as the 1.1 million doses ordered for the beginning of March when a similar sign-up process – which will be open for only two days – has been planned.

In order to prevent wasted doses, he called for the government to authorise vaccination in pharmacies as soon as possible.

French hospitals halt the use of AstraZeneca vaccine for healthcare workers

This comes as some French hospitals have halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – a first dose of which had been made available to all health workers as of February 6 - and leading doctors have questioned whether it should be used on health professionals at all.

In Brittany, hospitals in Morlaix and Brest have suspended vaccinations following reports of nurses experiencing secondary effects after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

In Brest 20-25% of vaccinated healthcare workers have since been unable to work due to experiencing flu-like symptoms including headaches and fevers, news source Le Télégramme reported.

Read more: Covid jab: Flu-like side effects reported by French nurses 

Concerns have also been raised over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which gives a lower rate of immunity against the Covid-19 virus compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Dr Jérôme Marty, president of medical union UFML told BFMTV:

“Far be it from us [health workers] to monopolise Pfizer vaccines reserved for elderly people, but we know that the [AstraZeneca] vaccine is less effective than those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna ones".

He said the AstraZeneca vaccine should be given to healthy young people in low-risk situations, instead of health professionals “subject to heavy viral loads”.

“We [health professionals] are in contact with the virus multiple times every day in medical services,” he said. “We should therefore have the strongest protection so we can stay close to our patients.” 

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are now being advised for health professionals in Moselle, Grand Est, which is experiencing higher-than-average instances of the South African Covid variant.

Professor Alain Fischer, president of the government vaccination strategy, said his proposition to prioritise the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for health workers “was logical in this context”.

He told BFMTV: “It is not that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not good. But we know the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will help us reach immunity faster.”

Related stories

Pharmacies in France prepare to give AstraZeneca vaccines

Covid vaccine: Pensioners in France struggle to book slots

Will France really be able to vaccinate everyone by summer?

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