Explainer: How France will distribute COVID-19 vaccines

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PARIS (Reuters) – France is preparing to roll out a first round of COVID-19 vaccines which it hopes will begin to affect citizens most at risk early next year while awaiting regulatory approvals from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

A medical worker, wearing a protective suit and face mask, performs a rapid Covid-19 antigen test on a patient at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing center in Sautron near Nantes, France, on December 7 2020. REUTERS / Stéphane Mahé

The government will ensure that vaccines are free for everyone in its social security system and has allocated 1.5 billion euros ($ 1.8 billion) from next year’s budget to cover costs, said Thursday Prime Minister Jean Castex.

Castex, who confirmed that vaccination will not be made compulsory, urged all citizens to get vaccinated.

The task seems particularly difficult in a country where hostility to vaccination is deeply rooted.

According to an Ipsos poll for the World Economic Forum, only 59% of French people surveyed said they would receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available, compared to 67% in the United States and 85% in Britain.

WHEN IS REGULATORY APPROVAL EXPECTED?

The EMA has set a deadline of December 29 to decide on a Pfizer / BioNTech candidate and January 12 for a vaccine developed by Moderna.

Castex said Thursday that France’s main public health advisory body, the Haute Autorité de Santé, would also give advice afterwards before a vaccine could be distributed.

WHEN WILL THE VACCINES START TO ARRIVE?

The government has said it will be ready to start supplying vaccines as soon as a vaccine is approved, meaning its vaccination campaign could begin as early as January 2021.

France, across the European Union, has obtained some 200 million doses, Castex said, enough to immunize some 100 million on a two-dose regimen – more than the country’s estimated population of 67 million.

WHO WILL RECEIVE THE FIRST DOSES?

The government has established a three-step vaccination schedule.

A first phase running through February would see vaccines administered to residents of nursing homes and some of the staff who care for them, representing a population of around 1 million.

Synerpa, France’s largest federation of private nursing homes, said it plans to start vaccinating residents from mid-January.

A second phase starting in March would see around 14 million people receive the vaccine depending on age and medical criteria.

A third phase starting in spring 2021 would then gradually target the rest of the adult population.

HOW WILL VACCINES BE TRANSPORTED AND TO WHERE?

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said two separate logistics channels have been put in place to ensure that the 10,000 French retirement homes receive vaccines smoothly, including Pfizer-BioNTech jabs which must be stored at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius.

Once they leave the manufacturing sites, the vaccines would be stored in dedicated pharmaceutical warehouses, Veran said, before reaching hospitals and nursing homes.

Veran said special freezers and necessary equipment such as syringes had been purchased to distribute the vaccine across the country without giving details, adding that arrangements had also been made for access into French territories beyond. -sea.

WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE OF ADMINISTRATION OF VACCINES TO PEOPLE?

French general practitioners will have the right to administer vaccines. Other local health workers will also be involved depending on the vaccine approval timeline throughout 2021.

For residents of nursing homes, a consultation prior to vaccination and medical follow-up after vaccination will be organized.

Report by Matthias Blamont; Edited by Keith Weir

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