In an effort to boost public confidence in the widely criticised AstraZeneca vaccine, French Health Minister Olivier Véran has been inoculated with the shot in front of TV cameras and reporters at a hospital southwest of Paris.
Against a background of widening criticism of the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, South Africa has delayed the start of its inoculation programme using the jab from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group over concerns the treatment does not work against a new variant of Covid-19 that originated in the southern African country.
Taking his first jab in public, Véran said that the South African variant had not been widely detected in France.
"I continue to recommend vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which protects against 99 percent of the viruses that are present in our country," Véran said from a hospital in the town of Melun.
France received 270,000 doses of the jab on Saturday and is to take delivery of another 300,000 in the next few days, the minister added.
Intended for front-line health workers
The vaccine is to be used as a priority for all care workers, including hospital and nursing home staff, as well as domestic workers.
"I encourage all care workers to get themselves vaccinated in their hospitals, health centres and all available places in order to protect themselves as fast as possible," Véran said.
The jab distributed by AstraZeneca and developed by the University of Oxford is set to be discussed by WHO experts on Monday against a background of doubts about its efficacy against the South African variant and against disease in the over-65s.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that the AZ shot was "quasi-ineffective for people over 65". The health authorities in Germany, for example, have banned the administration of the AstraZeneca treatment to older patients.
Government boost for private anti-Covid research
In a separate development, the French government announced that 300 million euros will be made available to fund private sector projects intended to help in the fight against Covid-19.
The money, to boost the production capacity of companies producing vaccines, is part of the 20 billion euros already promised under the terms of the Investment in the Future Scheme (PIA).
Seventeen projects, the majority aimed at expanding pharmaceutical production, are already under way, with a total state investment of 160 million euros.
Certain research laboratories have also received additional funding under the scheme.