France could begin Covid-19 vaccinations before year's end: PM

·2-min read

People in France could begin receiving coronavirus vaccines from the last week of December if the European Union's regulator approves Pfizer-BioNTech's jab next week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.

Castex spoke as he and Health Minister Olivier Véran presented the government's plans for vaccine distribution to the National Assembly, just weeks before the planned launch of an inoculation campaign that has been met with both mistrust and impatience by the French.

The proposals will be debated in the lower house before being presented to the Senate on Thursday.

The timeline for the vaccination campaign became clearer on Tuesday after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave in to pressure from Germany, bringing forward its assessment date for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 21 December.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFMTV: "We have always been very clear on the fact that once we have European validation, we could immediately start the vaccination campaign in France, even if that is by the end of December."

The UK has already launched its inoculation drive, with the US following suit on Monday,

Same day in Europe

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen encouraged all 27 EU states to roll out their vaccination campaigns on the same day.

For Alain Fischer, the government appointed doctor piloting France's vaccine strategy, says Europe is not behind in the deployment of Covid vaccines, but said further testing will not be necessary once the EMA gives the "green light".

France's vaccine roll-out was at the heart of debate in Parliament on Wednesday. "The objective is to play the 'total transparency card' of consultation and exchange, because that is how we will gain confidence," the prime minister's office said earlier.

"Every French person will be able to make up their own mind," added National Assembly President Richard Ferrand, who is aware of the mistrust against a vaccine, despite the 59,072 who have died from Covid-19 in France since the start of the pandemic.

According to a November survey by the French public health agency (ARS), only 53 percent of French people want to be vaccinated, compared to 64 percent in July – among one of the lowest confidence ratings in the world.