Yveline’s vaccinodrome ‘, the yellow jersey of France’s Covid-19 inoculation race


In France, more than 30 high-volume Covid-19 vaccination centers – called, sometimes scornfully, “vaccinodromes” are set to open, promising a boost to the country’s initially sluggish vaccination. Jowharvisited such a center inside the cycle path at the velodrome in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris.

“Come on! Come on, come on, come on!” a man on a motorcycle shouts to the French national team’s sprinting cyclists as they spin around the paved velodromba. His outburst could just as easily have been directed at healthcare professionals administering injections below into the oval pit that surrounds the piste.

Welcome to the giant vaccination center of the Yvelines branch, in this suburb southwest of the French capital. The vaccine dream, as this type of plant has become known in France, presupposes similar structures that the government will use in the fight against Covid-19, which is intended to help the country’s goal of injecting the first 10 million first doses by mid-April. On Wednesday, the day Jowharoccurred, more than 1,600 people received a push from either Pfizer / BioTech or the Moderna vaccines. The one-day figure represents more than three times the number of doses that a standard center in France manages to inject in an average week.

A scoreboard shows the number of doses administered since the vaccination center was opened at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome, outside Paris. Between 1,500 and 2,000 doses are injected daily. © Mehdi Chebil

Among today’s vaccine recipients, most had already scheduled online appointments with Doctolib, a website that provides reservations for doctor’s appointments. Others, such as Nicole Lalau, came after receiving a phone call from a local elected official who suggested a vaccination site.

Lalau, 74, from a small town near Versailles, says: “I am a big fan of Dr. Raoult,” referring to the controversial French professor who strongly advocated that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine be treated with Covid-19. “And at first I did not really want to get vaccinated. But when my mayor called to offer this meeting, I immediately accepted,” she says. “Mainly because I’m eager to be able to go out again freely.”

Nicole Lalau, 74, will be vaccinated at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines cycling center on March 31, 2021. She is very pleased with the speed of the process, she says: 40 minutes between arrival and leaving the vaccination center. © Mehdi Chebil

Raymond Vericel, a 74-year-old former warehouse manager, was less fortunate with his own mayor. “I tried several times to get an appointment on the Internet, but every card slot was full. The town hall where I live continued to send me back to Doctolib,” the pensioner explains. He had to try again before he finally managed to secure a vaccination period.

The two newly vaccinated seniors followed the same procedure. First an interview in a white stable with a doctor, who for some reason checked not to prescribe a shot and then delivered a certificate of vaccination according to government criteria. The injection itself is usually administered by a nurse in a blue stable. Finally, the new vaccination is registered in France’s social security database and the follow-up agreement for a second dose is confirmed.

Vaccination candidates queue at the entrance to the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome on March 31, 2021. Eligibility continues to expand to new age ranges: non-high-risk candidates over 60 will be eligible from mid-April and over-50s from mid-May. © Mehdi Chebil

The process was organized so that the 15 doctors and 15 nurses on site on Wednesday could complete their tasks as quickly as possible. The administrative staff who keep the vaccine dream clicking along hail for their part from the dozens of communities that make up Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

“Our goal is to give lots of shots, but also to avoid all the social injustice in the selection process. That’s why we work a lot with CCAS (Social Action Community Centers), which gives us people who can not schedule their own meetings,” explains Sandrine Hector, who handles PR for Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

To keep up with 1,500 to 2,000 doses a day, the nurses are constantly switching in the pharmacy area and decanting the expensive vaccine liquid from the vials to the syringes. Their colleagues in charge of the injections come in quick succession to “claim their dose”. It is within this hive of activity that drug assistants strive to get the most out of each vial: up to seven doses from the Pfizer vials and up to 12 from the modern ones.

The pharmacy’s stable where nurses prepare the syringes. It is the pulsating heart of the vaccine dream, where healthcare professionals are constantly filing to retrieve doses to be injected. © Mehdi Chebil

The vaccine bottles are the real ammunition in this healthcare war against Covid-19. They are stored in a refrigerator in a room for which Tristan Eybert, the man in charge of this center, protects the keys expensively. “In general, we receive the vaccines the day after the next. The most important thing for us is to have provisions as regularly as possible so that we can adjust the meetings and logistics in advance,” says Eybert, who works for the city.

Still, he believes that a new upswing to reach the goal of 5,000 injections a day seems possible. “We can start by extending the opening hours and vaccinating later in the evening, which would be conceivable for younger populations,” he says. The number of healthcare professionals and doses must also follow – two areas where the stars are starting to adapt.

Empty vials of Pfizer / BioTech vaccine are stacked. They are all numbered to allow accurate tracking of bearings. Mehdi CHEBIL

The human reinforcement should come as the government has announced that it is mobilizing firefighters and armed forces for the task along with large categories of healthcare professionals who are already licensed to carry out vaccinations. As for the “ammunition”, France will receive two million doses of the Pfizer / BioTech vaccine every week throughout the month of April.

It is a blessing for vaccinodrom’s staff, who regularly face mistrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “When we tell people to vaccinate them with Pfizer, we see their faces light up,” said Hector, the city’s PR person. “It’s practically like we produced a super Chablis instead of a classic white wine!”

Raymond Vericel poses for a photo near the exit after receiving his vaccination. “We are crossing roads with children in our stairwell whose classroom was closed due to Covid-19,” said the 74-year-old pensioner. “It’s reassuring to be vaccinated.” © Mehdi Chebil

This article has been translated from the original into French.