France is accelerating its COVID-19 vaccination of hospital medical staff, its health minister said on Monday after a first rollout slowed by bureaucracy and caution in one of the most vaccine-skeptical countries in the world.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said several thousand COVID-19 shots developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech had been administered across France on Monday.
France was slow, delivering just 516 COVID-19 inoculations during the first week of a nursing home campaign.
“We have decided to accelerate the campaign by expanding the target group to healthcare professionals without waiting to complete the vaccination campaign in nursing homes,” Veran said during a visit to a Paris hospital.
The sluggish start compared to European neighbors such as Britain and Germany annoyed President Emmanuel Macron, who has called a meeting with his prime minister and health minister on Monday night to speed up the deployment of the vaccine.
Macron wanted to “put pressure on the system” and speed up the deployment of the vaccine, said an Elysee official.
“It’s going too slowly,” epidemiologist and government adviser Arnaud Fontanet told France Info radio.
“But the real deadline is to reach 5-10 million (vaccinations) by the end of March, because that’s the point when you have a real impact on the spread of the virus.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 65,000 people in France, the seventh highest national toll in the world. Despite this, a survey over the weekend showed that six out of every ten French citizens intend to refuse vaccination.
Fontanet said it would be “useful” to simplify the bureaucracy involved in rolling out vaccinations. He ended by saying if a mandatory consultation with a doctor several days before he received a COVID jab was wasted.
A slow vaccination campaign risks France’s recovery from an unprecedented economic downturn in a time of peace.
The French Medical Academy last week said the government had taken “excessive precautions”. Government officials have said that vaccination in nursing homes was complicated logistically.
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A spokesman for the nursing home operator Korian said the company had been told it was ready for vaccinations at three of its facilities in the greater Paris area on Monday, but that the doses had not yet been delivered.
The UK, which has already used more than one million COVID-19 vaccine shots, has now started vaccinating its population with the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, with a scientific triumph.
Dominique Le Guludec, head of France’s medical regulator, said there was still insufficient information to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We prefer to wait another 15 days if necessary to have all the information we need about safety and efficiency,” Le Guludec told BFM TV.
The EU’s medical watchdog is expected to decide on the approval of a third vaccine, developed by Moderna, later this week.
On Monday, France sent 12 million students back to school after the planned Christmas weekend.
Restaurants, bars, museums and cinemas are still closed. It was unlikely that restaurants would reopen as originally planned on January 20, Prime Minister Alain Griset said on Sunday.