Vaccine shortages force parts of France to suspend immunisation drive

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France aims to get 2.5 million people vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of February, but a shortage of vaccines has forced Paris and two other regions to postpone giving out the first doses.

Like much of Europe, France faces a vaccine shortfall because pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has temporarily slowed supplies in order to make manufacturing changes. AstraZeneca meanwhile said it would cut supplies of its shot allocated to the EU in the first quarter due to production issues at a Belgian factory.

The public health agency for Paris and the surrounding region, an area of 12.1 million people, told regional hospitals on a conference call on Wednesday that from 2 February all deliveries of first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to medical establishments would be suspended.

It cited the “extremely tight vaccine supplies and the need to guarantee the second injection for people already vaccinated”.

Injections of the second, follow-up dose were to continue, a health official told Reuters on Thursday. There was no indication during the call when first doses would resume.

The agency said it was aiming to give people injections of first doses next week, but this was subject to changes in the volumes of vaccine deliveries that were initially promised by the manufacturers.

Supply problems

The public health agency for the northern Hauts-de-France region said earlier on Thursday that it was pushing injections of the first doses, planned for early February, back to the first week of March. It also cited supply problems.

In the region around the wine-making Burgundy area, the public health agency said it was deferring appointments for first injections of Covid-19 vaccines in order to address supply shortages.

Residents of care homes – among the most at risk from serious illness in the epidemic – are unlikely to be affected by the delays because most have already received the first dose.

But the delays are likely to affect people over 75 and health care workers who are currently due to receive a first dose.

Most of the vaccines currently approved for use globally come in two doses: the first gives only limited protection from the virus, with the second needed to fully inoculate a patient.

The French health ministry said on Wednesday that as of 26 January, a total of 1.13 million first doses and 6,153 second doses had been administered.

Europe-wide delays

The vaccine roll-out in France, as in its European neighbours, lags far behind other countries. States including Israel, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates and Britain have already vaccinated much larger shares of their population.

Because EU countries decided to procure their vaccines collectively, the supply issues hitting France are affecting other countries in the bloc.

Portugal said the first phase of its vaccination plan will be extended by around two months into April, as delivery delays mean it will receive half the expected doses by March.

Germany faces a shortage well into April. “We will still have at least 10 tough weeks with a shortage of vaccine,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a Tweet.

(with Reuters)