Facing criticism, France vows to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations

France had administered around 430 vaccines as of Sunday afternoon, a week after inoculation began

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France has vowed to speed up its Covid-19 vaccinations after criticism from health experts about the rate of immunisation. A week into the campaign, President Emmanuel Macron scathingly compared the pace of the rollout to a “family stroll”, as France lagged far behind other European countries.

The world’s most vaccine-sceptical nation had only administered around 430 of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab as of Sunday afternoon, a week after vaccinations began, according to French data website CovidTracker.

That compares to Germany, which has inoculated 238,000 people, and the United Kingdom’s 1 million, after it became the first Western nation to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech shot on 2 December.

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The French National Academy of Medicine has been joined by many health experts in criticising the slow rollout. Leading geneticist Axel Kahn called the campaign a “disaster”.

France’s Covid-19 death toll of nearly 65,000 people is the highest in Western Europe.

‘Quick, drastic change’

Opposition politicians have jumped on the latest example of what they say is the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus since the beginning.

Under growing pressure, President Emmanuel Macron slammed the pace of the vaccine rollout, comparing it to a “family stroll”, and saying it “does not meet the needs of the moment, nor the needs French”, according to sources close to the Elysée.

“I wage war morning, noon, evening and night. I expect the same commitment from you all,” the president was quoted as saying by the Journal du Dimanche.

“This is not good enough. It must change quickly and drastically – and it will.”

Ramped-up schedule

Macron said all doctors who wish to be vaccinated will be allowed to do so as quickly as possible to set the example for their patients.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal added that health workers over the age of 50 would have access to the vaccine from 4 January, instead of from February as originally planned.

Health Minister Olivier Véran vowed to step up the pace of vaccinations for elderly people “within a few weeks” in order to bring France’s programme up to the same level as other countries.

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In a move that would significantly speed up the vaccination programme, additional vaccination centres are to be up and running later in January for people aged 75 or over, with the 65+ group soon to follow, Veran said.

Prime Minister Jean Castex promised in early December that 1 million people would be vaccinated by the end of January. To meet that target, France would have to inoculate more than 32,000 people every day until the end of January, according to CovidTracker data.