France steps up Covid vaccination drive to include people over 55

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From Monday French people over the age of 55 will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations – ahead of schedule – as authorities race to gain ground against the British variant that’s been sweeping France.

Speaking to the Journal du Dimanche Sunday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said over 55s could receive doses of either the AstraZeneca vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is being delivered to France on Monday – a week early.

“Many family caregivers are between 55 and 60, while others are in couples with older partners,” Veran said. “They were worried about having to wait another month. Now they can protect themselves.”

France had reserved the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 55 with serious health conditions after blood clotting disorders were observed in younger patients.

Faster rollout

Despite breaking the record number of daily injections on Friday, at 510,000 jabs, Véran said France needed to again step up its vaccination pace.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved in France since 12 March. Véran said the the first delivery would be some 200,000 doses.

Véran also announced that people over 60 years of age would be eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines – the two other vaccines authorised for use in France – from 16 April.

Vaccine gap extended

Spacing between the first and second doses of those vaccines, he said, would be extended from four to six weeks, as of 14 April.

“This will allow us to vaccinate more quickly without reducing protection,” Véran added.

When asked whether he was worried about vaccine hesitancy in France, Véran said: “Let's not forget that the French, once skeptical, are now 70 percent in favour of vaccines.”

Over 10 million doses have now been administered, according to public health figures.

French authorities are hoping their accelerated vaccine rollout will allow the country, which is under lockdown, to open up again within a month.

As of Saturday, the number of patients in intensive care rose to 5,769, the highest figure since 17 April last year, according to Sante Publique France. 388 of those were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours.

The agency also noted that in the past 24 hours, France recorded 43,284 new infections, with an average of 38,301 cases per day over the past week.