Is France’s Covid-19 vaccination calendar realistic?

The government aims to vaccinate every willing person by the end of the summer but delays to dose deliveries have meant that less than 1.5 million people have been fully vaccinated 

26 February 2021
Just over 4% of people in France have so far received at least one dose of a Covid vaccination
By Connexion journalist

The public rollout of France's Covid-19 vaccination campaign officially began on January 18 for people aged 75 and over, but it has received criticism for being too slow.

One Connexion reader recently wrote in to complain that her husband, who is 77 and has blood cancer, has been trying to get a vaccine appointment since January 20.

She said that the process has been "chaotic and unfair".

"We are experiencing stress from the situation. My husband and I have been confined for a full year under doctor's recommendations."

France has so far given a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to around 25% of people aged over 75, Prime Minister Jean Castex stated yesterday (February 25).

While the vaccination process for this age group continues, France launched a new step in its campaign yesterday, with doctors administering doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines to people aged between 50 to 64 with certain existing medical conditions.

Around two million people fall into this group and the Ministry of Health is hoping to have them all vaccinated, if they so wish to be, by the middle of March. The government is hoping to vaccinate every willing person in this age range by mid-May. 

Covid France: Jabs begin for priority patients aged 50 to 64

People aged 65 to 74 who do not suffer from serious health conditions are still ineligible to receive a vaccine as they are outside of France's age range for the AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Mr Castex has stated that these people will begin receiving vaccinations by the beginning of April when two-thirds of people aged over 75 should have been vaccinated. 

“The vaccination campaign is continuing and expanding. By the end of February, more than four million vaccines will have been administered to more than three million people,” he said during a press conference on February 25.

Mr Castex, however, stated that "we will have to be patient", because "we depend on the manufacture and delivery of the doses ordered by the European Union".

Is the country on track to meet its targets?

A graphic published on CovidTracker.fr, a website tracking the epidemic in France, shows that France still has a long way to go before it reaches its target of vaccinating every willing person by the end of summer.

Each square corresponds to 1% of the population in France. The dark green squares correspond to the people who have received two doses and the light green squares represent those who have received one dose. 

The bright red squares represent the people who need to be vaccinated before reaching a vaccination rate of 60% (considered by some scientists to be the marker for attaining herd immunity). The light red squares represent the remaining people who have not been vaccinated. 

Source: CovidTracker.fr

The CovidTracker website states, “to vaccinate the entire adult population (52 million people) by August 2021, 524,332 doses would need to be injected daily.

"At the current rate (averaged over the past seven days), the goal of vaccinating the entire adult population will be reached by September 24, 2023.”

It is clear then that at the current rate, France is a long way from reaching its objectives. 

Why has the campaign been so slow?

It is mostly due to issues of production and delivery of the three vaccine types so far approved for use in the EU. 

All three developers, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, faced complications.

Following Pfizer-BioNTech’s announcement of delays to dose deliveries, the company announced on February 1 that it would supply 75million extra doses of its vaccine to the EU in the second quarter of 2021. 

This would bring the total number of doses due to be delivered by the middle of the year up to 600million, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated.

France was expecting to receive around 26million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of June, so this number will likely now increase.

Moderna, which develops another vaccine authorised for use in France, has said that its initial deliveries will be 25% lower than planned, postponing its deliveries until March.

The company did strike a deal on February 17 with the EU to sell another 150million doses of its vaccine to Europe. Those doses are set to be delivered in the third and fourth quarter of the year. 

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, has announced that it will deliver nine million more doses in the first quarter of the year, bringing the total up to 40 million doses by the end of March.

This is still only half of what the pharmaceutical company had originally aimed for before it announced production issues in January. 

A fourth vaccine type, developed by American company Johnson & Johnson, is currently being assessed by the European Medicines Agency. The company applied for authorisation for its Covid-19 vaccine on February 16 and it could receive approval by the middle of March. 

The EU has ordered 200million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, of which around half are expected to be delivered by the end of June.

France is set to receive 30million doses of these over the course of 2021. As only one dose of the vaccine is required, that would mean full vaccination against Covid-19 for 30million people.

During a January press conference, French Prime Minister Jean Castex stated that France should receive eight million doses of this vaccine by the end of June.

However, as France had already factored in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to its campaign strategy, its approval will not necessarily speed up the vaccination rollout, but it will simply keep it on track.

Prime Minister Castex stated on February 25 that “we will have to be patient", because "we depend on the manufacture and delivery of the doses ordered by the European Union".

Can France vaccinate every willing person by the end of summer?

France has ordered six different Covid-19 vaccines, via the European Union, of which three have been approved so far and one more is awaiting approval.

All of them require two doses to be fully effective, except the Janssen-Johnson & Johnson vaccine which only requires one. 

If the remaining two vaccines, being developed by Sanofi-GSK and CureVac, are approved France will receive over 200million Covid-19 doses over the course of 2021. This is more than enough to vaccinate the entire population. 

The success of the plan will depend on the remaining three vaccine types being approved on time and delivery targets being met.

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