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France faces possible coronavirus vaccine glut

Published: in 🇪🇺🇪🇺European News🇪🇺🇪🇺 by .

Several towns in France have started breaking government guidelines in order to keep up the pace of coronavirus vaccinations.

PARIS — France’s health minister announced Friday that overweight and diabetic patients will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine from Saturday amid concerns that stocks of doses were pilling up.

The apparent mismatch between supply and demand has raised questions among local officials and doctors about the government’s rollout strategy.

According to popular COVID tracking website Vitemadose, there are over 280,000 vaccination appointments that remain unclaimed across France. The government has disputed the figure but has yet to provide a corrected one.

France is expecting to receive an extra delivery of 7.5 million doses from Pfizer, bringing the total number of BioNTech/Pfizer doses expected in France to 30 million over the next two months.

To manage the increase in deliveries, France has opened large-scale vaccination centers across the country called vaccinodromes.

Vaccination centers in Paris, Cannes and Grenoble have started offering slots to people who are not officially eligible for vaccinations. In other centers in Paris, Bordeaux and Angers, there were slots available within the next 24 hours that had not been taken.

This week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the government’s strategy.

“It’s true that we have a number of appointments that are not taken, but the figures should not be exaggerated. [Our strategy] works, we target the most vulnerable patients and we are advancing toward our goals,” he told reporters on Wednesday. According to government figures, over 4 million people, who are in the most vulnerable categories, have yet to get a jab.

Currently vulnerable patients with certain conditions and citizens over the age of 55 are eligible for vaccinations.

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Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron has announced a timetable for the lifting of further lockdown restrictions. Cafe terraces, museums, cinemas and nonessential shops are expected to reopen by May 19.

Breaking government guidelines

The town of Cannes is one of the places that has decided to go further than the government in booking vaccination slots for residents over the age of 40.

“We don’t have anybody over the age of 50 on our waiting lists who wants to get vaccinated,” says Karin Topin-Condomitti, an official working at Cannes town council.

“We are not breaking the government’s vaccination strategy, as we are offering vaccines to the oldest first, we are just a bit ahead of everybody else.”

In Corsica, some towns have started offering jabs to people over the age of 18, and in Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, some slots are being reserved for key workers below the age of 55.

In other regions, local officials have been calling for the government to open up the program to boost demand.  

An office employee working in a large vaccination center in the town of Angers said 4,500 slots remain unclaimed for next week.

“Our request to offer vaccinations more widely has been rejected,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not a spokesperson. “We can’t follow Cannes’ example [and break the rules] because we are supervised by the ministry of health directly.”

The government said issues are localized and reports that tens of thousands of appointments remain unclaimed are exaggerated.

“It’s normal that you see a lot of appointments. Vaccination centers are opening up slots because we are expecting big deliveries of Pfizer vaccines,” said an official at the ministry of health. “What matters is whether the appointments stay open.”

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On Thursday, France hit a record of 550,000 vaccinations in the previous 24 hours.

AstraZeneca, je t’aime, moi non plus

The arrivals of large Pfizer deliveries have raised concerns that it will be harder to use up stocks of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The Anglo-Swedish product suffers not only from an image problem in France but is also banned for those under the age of 55 because of concerns about rare incidents of dangerous blood clotting.

Currently, a quarter of AstraZeneca stocks remain unused in France, a figure that could increase as more Pfizer jabs become available.

On Friday, Health Minister Olivier Véran said he had asked the French health watchdog to examine whether it would be possible to offer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to those under 55. Volunteers for the vaccine would be required to sign a release form.

Patrick Vogt, a general practitioner in the city of Mulhouse, said he is desperate for the government to change its recommendations after he was forced to throw away doses of AstraZeneca last week.

“I managed to vaccinate 6 patients in 3 days. The others said they didn’t want to, or wanted to wait for another vaccine,” said Dr. Vogt. “So my vials were going out of date, I had to throw them away.”

After posting a video of himself throwing doses in the bin, Dr. Vogt received dozens of calls from volunteers in their forties who wanted to get a jab — people he is not allowed to vaccinate.

“I’m angry and disheartened,” said Dr. Vogt. “We need to accelerate the pace of the vaccinations as it’s the one thing that protects us from new variants developing.”

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About 22 percent of the French population has received at least one vaccine dose, a figure which still lags the likes of Germany, the U.K. and Belgium, according to the POLITICO vaccination tracker.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/france-coronavirus-vaccine-glut/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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