Pharmacists across France will be able to administer AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine after the national health authority gave its authorisation on Tuesday. But the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) limited its recommendation to people under the age of 65, citing "insufficient data" from clinical trials on older patients.
The French health authority said it was expecting more data on efficacy for older people in the coming weeks. Germany has also approved AstraZeneca's treatment, but only for those aged 18 to 64.
Approved by the EU regulator last week, the jab is much easier to handle than the Pfizer and Moderna products, already in use, which require ultra-cold storage.
The third vaccine to be recommended in France is expected to be available in pharmacies by the third week of February, which would provide a considerable boost to the inoculation drive.
It has yet to be decided who will be allowed benefit from the pharmacists' service. French vaccinations are currently reserved for older people, the most fragile, and for front-line health workers.
Willing and able
Pharmacists have already made their availability clear.
"We have to get nurses and chemists involved in the vaccination effort," says Gilles Bonnefond, president of the Confederation of Pharmacists' Unions. "We've already lost two weeks. Now we have to start vaccinating people in towns and cities, and that means in pharmacies. We're ready."
Another union leader in the sector, Philippe Besset of the Federation of French Pharmacists, says his members are standing by, especially to help those who are unable to visit an official vaccination centre.
Who can get in line for a jab?
The month of February will see the categories of those eligible for inoculation widened to include all persons between the ages of 55 and 74, living in their own homes.
If supplies of vaccines continue to be available, the programme will be extended in the autumn to include all French residents over the age of 50, as well as those exercising professional functions considered essential to the smooth running of the country.
In all cases, appointments are made by ringing the closest vaccination centre from those listed on the official site sante.fr. A reservation service is also proposed by the various providers of online medical appointments.