France's national health authority said Friday that it had approved the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Moderna for people 18 and older, clearing the way for a second option in the country's highly criticised inoculation campaign.
The French green light comes two days after EU officials approved the Moderna vaccine, which also won the backing of UK regulators on Friday.
France's government has come under fire for a sluggish start to vaccinations which have been tangled in red tape and left France lagging behind European neighbours such as Britain and Germany.
Fewer than 50,000 people have been given a vaccine since December 27, compared with hundreds of thousands in Germany within the same timespan and more than 1.3 million in the UK, which began vaccinations slightly earlier.
"We want to go faster," Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Thursday, defending the bureaucratic safeguards initially imposed to ensure a safe rollout but saying procedures would be simplified.
France has pre-ordered 200 million doses of different Covid-19 vaccines, more than enough to cover its entire 67-million strong population.
Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday announced a new government target of 1 million inoculations by the end of January.
Castex also announced that more people are set to become eligible for the jab, including the over-75s and handicapped people in care homes.
But scepticism about vaccines in France is making the government's task harder.
Only 40% of French people want to take the vaccine compared with 77% in Britain, according to an opinion poll last week by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum.
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.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)