Every day, with hardly concealed pride, the French government presents the latest vaccination figures. The counter is now 23,3 million pricks (stand of Tuesday evening). More than 16 million French have had their first vaccine, nearly 7 million Frenchmen have already had their second vaccine. “Almost a third of the adult population has received the first injection,” the Ministry of Health summarizes it.
But behind those figures there are quite a few problems. GP Patrick Vogt from Mulhouse threw the bat into the henhouse at the end of last month. He posted a video on Twitter showing how he threw a partially used vial of AstraZeneca into the trash. “We are in the middle of a pandemic and I am obliged to throw it away because nobody wants it,” says Vogt in the video. He wanted to prick, but nobody came.
That video put the subject on the political agenda, but the problem was not new. In mid-March, a journalist told him how he was walking on the street in Marseille and was asked by staff of the vaccination centre: whether he wanted a shot with Pfizer. “At first I thought it was a joke. But they said there were a lot of doses left. They wanted to use them rather than throw them away.”
Storm of indignation
The two reports were not on their own. From all over France there were reports of unused vaccines that had to be disposed of due to their limited shelf life. A storm of indignation was the result. And the criticism of the government swelled.
The French Government only allows certain groups to be vaccinated. Of the healthy French, only those over 55 are still eligible, but they are not in line massively. At the same time, there are younger French who very much want to be vaccinated, but are not allowed yet.
“ We get people 20, 30 and 40 years old who say they want a vaccine all the time. And we have to say no, while we have doses available and the infrastructure to prick these people too,” said a driver of the southern department of Gers to Le Monde.
In Paris, younger people can be vaccinated with vaccines that remain. They can sign up via an app, show our correspondent in this report:
The left-wing mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, called government policy a scandal. She called on President Macron to be more flexible and to vaccinate other groups as well. In Cannes, the right-wing mayor David Lisnard decided on his own authority to change the course. In March, he opened the vaccinations for everyone over 50, and last week he even lowered the border to 40 years.
His example is now being followed throughout France, as a kind of civil disobedience. And the government allows it to turn a blind eye.
Tens of thousands free spots
In vaccination centers, residual doses are given at the end of the day to people who are officially not yet entitled to it. In Nice, everyone aged 18 and older was allowed to put themselves on a waiting list: they received a call as soon as vaccines were left.
Because French people over 55 are not very enthusiastic about the available vaccines, there are many empty seats in waiting areas. Apps show exactly where and when there is room to be vaccinated. Anyone who searches for places in Paris at one of these apps, VitemaDose (freely translated: “Come on with that shot”) will see at a glance that in the next few weeks a total of 2705 seats will still be available at 34 locations in the city. 27,804 punctures are available in Lyon, in Bordeaux 4209.
Fear of AstraZeneca
According to recent calculations, 7 million French over 60 have not yet been vaccinated, although they have long been entitled to a prick. The government estimates the number a little lower. “If we aim to vaccinate 80% of the target group, there are 4.3 million French people who are entitled to a vaccine but have not shown up yet,” says Minister of Health Olivier Véran.
One of the main reasons is the fear that many French people have about AstraZeneca. The reports of very rare cases of thrombosis have not done the British-Swedish vaccine any good. An average of 45,000 Astrazeneca pricks are made per day in France, while there is enough for 100,000 to 150,000 per day, the site Doctolib said where online appointments can be made for vaccinations.
But the French vaccination program is also complicated, experts say. The government has established certain age categories and occupations, which are always eligible for a vaccine from different dates. And one group is entitled to Pfizer or Moderna and the other to AstraZeneca or Jansen. One group should be pricked in a large vaccination centre, the other with a GP orpharmacy.
Register for this can be done online, but several websites are available for that. For French seniors in particular, the search for a shot quickly feels as if they have ended up in a Kafkaësk maze.
Every extra prick is nicely taken with it
The French Government has now called on local authorities to approach and seek out seniors more actively, to vaccinate them. But because of the increased criticism, President Macron has also made a concession. Vaccinations have been possible since last weekend for all adults over the age of 18 with chronic diseases. These include diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Remarkably, there is no need for medical evidence for these conditions. “People are coming in now saying theyre overweight when you dont see anything about them,” said a doctor at a vaccination centre on French television this weekend. “Well, if a few of them slip in between, thats only good. Every extra shot is nicely carried.”