Lagging its neighbors, France tries to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations

PARIS (Reuters) -French officials urged a faster rate of COVID-19 inoculations on Monday after an initial roll-out slowed by bureaucracy and what some see as excessive government precautions in one of the most vaccine-skeptical countries in the world.

The country began vaccinating medical staff over the age of 50 after delivering just 516 COVID-19 shots developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech during the first week of a campaign that focused on the elderly in nursing homes.

President Emmanuel Macron will meet later with his prime minister and health minister to “put pressure on the system” and quicken the vaccine’s deployment, an Elysee official said.

The slow start compared with European neighbours such as Britain and Germany has irritated Macron, who told people close to him “things must change fast”, the Journal du Dimanche reported.

“It’s going too slowly,” epidemiologist and government adviser Arnaud Fontanet told France Info radio.

“But the real deadline is to reach five-10 million (vaccinations) by the end of March, because that’s the point at which 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 globally. Even so, a survey over the weekend showed six in every 10 French citizens intend to refuse vaccination.

Fontanet said it would be “useful” to simplify the bureaucracy involved in the vaccination roll-out. He stopped short of saying whether a mandatory consultation with a doctor several days before getting a COVID jab was time wasted.

A slow vaccination campaign risks jeopardising France’s recovery from an unprecedented economic slump in a time of peace.

France’s National Academy of Medicine last week said the government was taking “excessive precautions”. Government officials have said vaccinating in care homes was complex logistically.

A spokesman for nursing home operator Korian said that the company had been told to be ready for vaccinations at three of its sites in the greater Paris area on Monday but that the doses had not yet been delivered.

Britain, which has used more than a million COVID-19 vaccine shots already, has now begun vaccinating its population with the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, boasting a scientific triumph.

Dominique Le Guludec, head of France’s medical regulator, said there was still insufficient data to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We prefer to wait another 15 days if necessary to have all the data we need on safety and efficacy,” Le Guludec told BFM TV.

The EU’s medical watchdog is expected to decide on approval of a third vaccine, developed by Moderna, later this week.

France on Monday sent 12 million pupils back to school after the Christmas holidays as planned.

Restaurants, bars, museums and cinemas remain shut. It was unlikely restaurants would re-open as initially planned on Jan. 20, government minister Alain Griset said on Sunday.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Richard Lough; Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Nick Macfie and Hugh Lawson

Image: FILE PHOTO: Doses of the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are displayed with their lot number and expiration date, at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, U.S., December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan

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