PARIS (Reuters) – France is preparing the rollout of a first round of COVID-19 vaccines that it hopes will start reaching the most at risk citizens early next year pending regulatory approvals of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The government will ensure vaccines are free for all in its social security system and has earmarked 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) of next year’s budget to cover costs, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.
Castex, who confirmed vaccination would not be made compulsory, urged all citizens to get a shot.
The task appears particularly daunting in a country where hostility toward vaccination is well rooted.
According to an Ipsos poll for the World Economic Forum, only 59% of French respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available, compared with 67% in the United States and 85% in Britain.
WHEN IS REGULATORY APPROVAL EXPECTED?
The EMA has set a Dec. 29 deadline to decide on a Pfizer/BioNTech candidate and Jan. 12 for a vaccine developed by Moderna.
Castex said on Thursday France’s top public health advisory body, Haute Autorite de Sante, would also subsequently deliver its advice before any vaccine can be distributed.
WHEN WILL VACCINES START ARRIVING?
The government has said it would be ready to start providing shots as soon as a vaccine gets approved which means its vaccination campaign could start as early as January 2021.
France, through the European Union, has secured some 200 million doses Castex said, enough to vaccinate some 100 million with a two doses regimen – more than the country’s population estimated at 67 million.
WHO WILL RECEIVE THE FIRST DOSES?
The government has laid out a vaccination calendar with three main stages.
A first phase running through February would see vaccines given to nursing home residents and some of the staff looking after them, representing a population of about 1 million.
Synerpa, France’s largest federation of private nursing homes, said it expected to start vaccinating residents from mid-January.
A second phase starting in March would see some 14 million receive the shot based on age and medical criteria.
A third phase beginning in the spring of 2021 would then target the rest of the adult population gradually.
HOW WILL VACCINES BE TRANSPORTED AND TO WHERE?
French health minister Olivier Veran said two distinct logistics circuits had been setup to ensure France’s 10,000 nursing homes receive the vaccines smoothly, including the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs which need to be stored at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius.
Once they depart manufacturing sites, the vaccines would be stored in dedicated pharmaceutical warehouses, Veran said, before reaching hospitals and nursing homes.
Veran said special freezers and the necessary equipment such as syringes had been purchased to deliver the vaccine across the country without giving specifics, adding arrangements had also been made for access in French overseas territories.
WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE OF ADMINISTERING VACCINES TO PEOPLE?
French general practitioners will be entitled to administer vaccines. Other local health workers will also be involved depending on the approval timeframe of vaccines throughout 2021.
For nursing homes residents, a consultation prior to vaccination and a medical follow up post vaccination will be organised.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Keith Weir)