France’s Covid booster campaign begins: What is virus situation now?

We summarise the key points as vaccination opens up

An older woman receiving a vaccination, wearing a mask
People aged 65 and over are among those eligible for a Covid booster in France from today (October 2)
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A new Covid booster campaign opens in France today (October 2), as cases of the virus continue to rise. We look at the current health situation and recap how the campaign will work.

What is the current state of Covid in France?

The new campaign, mainly targeting vulnerable people, had been due to start on October 17 but was advanced to today on advice from France’s health risk committee.

Yet, experts have said that a lack of testing since the peak of the pandemic - and the closure of the database that tracked case numbers, PCR test results, and hospital admissions - have made it more difficult to track the virus spread.

The results present a mixed picture.

A new app, Néo-Sidep, collects test results from laboratories but not those carried out in pharmacies or at home.

Since the first case of the BA.2.86 was discovered in France, authorities have once again begun testing used water to detect the presence of the virus. These analyses suggest that the virus is increasing again.

However, epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola, a member of the Académie des sciences et emeritus research director at public research organisation Inserm, told BFMTV: “We only have a piecemeal view of the situation. We are doing so few tests, including in hospital, that it’s not representative. We don’t have enough information on this type of variant.”

"We're in a bit of a fog," said Professor Mircea Sofonea, a researcher and lecturer in epidemiology and the evolution of infectious diseases at the University of Montpellier, to BFMTV. “It's a fog that has gradually settled in.”

Professor Sofonea said that France should have put a “reactive replacement monitoring system” in place, with random screening of the population. He said that France lacked investment in Covid surveillance methods.

Health state authority Santé Publique France (SPF) said on September 12 that “hospital visits for suspected Covid-19 [were] once again up” by 30% compared to the previous week. The biggest increase in admissions was for children aged 2-14.

At-home doctor service SOS Médecins said that as of September 25, adult hospital visits for suspected Covid-19 had risen by 19% in the previous week.

GP network Sentinelles estimated that the current rate of cases is at 95 per 100,000 inhabitants, a rise from 81 the previous week. This equates to 49,248 new cases.

SPF said that people’s protection against the virus would be declining, due to more time elapsing between their last vaccination or infection.

“This could lead to an upsurge in severe forms of the disease, particularly among vulnerable people,” it said, alongside the Centre national de référence des virus des infections respiratoires, which is part of the Institut Pasteur.

Read more: Five questions on France’s new Covid vaccination campaign

Who is eligible for the booster vaccine?

People who are most at risk of developing a severe form of the disease. This includes:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • People with immunodeficiency
  • People with underlying conditions and chronic illnesses
  • People with psychiatric disorders
  • Pregnant women

People who care for or live with vulnerable people or who are in regular contact with them, including professionals in the health and medico-social sectors, are also eligible.

The French government website also states: “People who are not part of the populations being targeted by the vaccination campaign can also, if they wish, get a free dose.”

Are there extra criteria for the vaccine?

Yes. You must wait six months since your last Covid vaccination or infection, before having another vaccination.

People who have had the vaccine before only need one ‘booster’ injection. However, people who have never had a Covid vaccine before will need to have the first dose followed by a second injection around three weeks later, and some may need a third dose eight weeks after that.

Where can I get the vaccine if I am eligible?

You can get one from:

  • Pharmacies
  • GPs, nurses, midwives
  • Dentists

Care home and medical unit patients will have their vaccinations on-site.

The cost is 100% covered if you are eligible for state healthcare.

What vaccines are being used?

The campaign will use vaccines that use mRNA technology, and have been adapted to the Omicron variant, and specifically the “XBB.1.5 subvariant”, said SPF. This is the variant currently circulating most in France (although the vaccine is still effective against all variants).

This will mean vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, as opposed to other types that were used in the first vaccination campaign rounds, such as the Vaxzevria / AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine. Moderna will be used for people aged 30 and over.

These vaccines will be used regardless of the type of vaccine the patient received before.

Alternatives to this vaccine include Sanofi's VidPrevtyn Beta and Novavax's Nuvaxovid. The latter will be adapted to XBB.1.5 and available in November.

Can I get the flu vaccine at the same time?

Yes, if you are eligible for both.

The Covid vaccination campaign is combined with the seasonal ‘flu campaign, as “the people targeted by the Covid-19 vaccination are the same as those targeted by the influenza vaccination recommendations”, the DGS said.

The two vaccines can be given at the same appointment (for example, one injection in each arm) if you wish.

What has been the reception of the booster campaign?

Some reports suggest that people in France are growing tired of the repeated campaigns and focus on Covid.

“I don't really care about Covid any more," said Anthony, 43, to 20 Minutes. "I had it last year, and just got a bit tired and had a sore throat. So the mask is out, and I'm not going to get tested if I have any symptoms, as the tests cost money. You have to live with the virus.”

Dr Benjamin Davido, infectologist and Covid-19 crisis coordinator at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches (Hauts-de-Seine), said that “there is still a lot of misinformation and ignorance about the current risk and the arrival of new vaccines, with and without messenger RNA”.

Some people wrongly believe that mRNA vaccines 'change DNA'. “That's extremely harmful: the lack of information and support from the public authorities is fuelling this conspiracy,” said Dr Davido. “There has not been enough education and planning from the authorities.”

Dr Davido believes that the campaign should have started in September and that there should be more communication on increased barrier gestures and self-isolation.

One woman - Sophie, 45 - agrees that the booster campaign is starting too late.

“My family and I would have liked to have been vaccinated a fortnight earlier,” she said to 20 Minutes. “Why did we wait when we know that the back-to-school period increases infections…? For my husband and me, it's too late. We caught it this week, although we were vigilant, because we were fragile.

“As for our parents, they wanted to make an appointment as soon as possible, but the pharmacist is still waiting for the vaccines.”

Some older people said they were happy to get a booster vaccination now.

Francine, aged 78, said: “I've been vaccinated against flu for 10 years and I'll be vaccinated against Covid. I've had four doses and I've never had the virus.”

Marie-Line, a 64-year-old retired nurse, said: “I've been vaccinated four times and I've never had Covid. I'm going to do my booster, and I'll put the mask back on if I need to.”

One man, Éric, 55, said he would also be getting the vaccine as soon as possible. “I have several medical conditions - heart attack, stents, pulmonary embolism,” he said. “Covid is still dangerous for me.”

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