France’s chaotic vaccine roll-out took another bizarre twist today as regulators said people aged 55 and over should resume getting Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs but younger people should not.
It marks a 180-degree reversal from France’s earlier position that it should only be younger people getting the shot, after Emmanuel Macron claimed wrongly that the jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’ among over-65s.
The recommendation by France’s health regulator comes as French PM Jean Castex – who is 55 – is set to get an AstraZeneca shot on Friday in a bid to boost public confidence in the jab.
France’s ambassador in the UK, 65-year-old Catherine Colonna, also took the AstraZeneca vaccine on the NHS today – giving a vote of confidence to Britain’s roll-out by announcing on Twitter that her jab was ‘Done. Safely’.
Jean Castex, the 55-year-old prime minister of France, winces as he receives the AstraZeneca vaccine hours after health regulators in the country ruled that anyone younger than him should not get it at all
France’s ambassador in the UK, Catherine Colonna, 65, had the Oxford jab on the NHS today and praised Britain’s vaccine roll-out by saying that her injection was ‘Done. Safely’
The AstraZeneca chaos has contributed to France having a slow rate of vaccinations compared to the UK, with only 5.6million people given a first dose compared to 25.7million in Britain
France’s new recommendation is based on the fact that the blood clots which led to the jab’s suspension in much of Europe had occurred only in people under 55.
EU regulators gave their definitive verdict on Thursday by saying that the vaccine was ‘safe and effective’, and did not recommend any age-related restrictions.
The safety panel at the European Medicines Agency said there was no increased risk of blood clots linked to the vaccine.
But French regulators now claim there is a ‘possible increased risk’ of thrombosis among under-55s, meaning younger people will not be given the jab.
It marks the third change to France’s vaccine policies in quick succession amid a chaotic roll-out lagging way behind Britain’s in the global league table.
On February 2, France approved the AstraZeneca vaccine but only for under-65s, amid concerns about limited data on older people in clinical trials.
Macron poured fuel on the fire by claiming the jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’ in what was seen as an act of post-Brexit ill-will amid an angry row between the EU and AstraZeneca.
Real-world data from England and Scotland subsequently showed that the AstraZeneca jab was highly effective at stopping severe illness in older people.
Emmanuel Macron, pictured, has come under fire at home and abroad after presiding over a chaotic vaccine roll-out and a third wave of the epidemic in France
People wait to get vaccinated on the French island of Ouessant on Friday with jabs coming too slowly to stave off a third wave of Covid-19
On March 2, France changed tack and said that people under 75 with existing health problems could get the jab, while still blocking it for its oldest citizens.
Then, on Monday, France joined the tide of EU countries blocking the jab altogether over sporadic reports of blood clots among millions of people given a dose.
Many of those countries including Germany and Italy have since announced they will resume the AstraZeneca campaign in full after the EMA’s ruling on Thursday.
But France is set to continue limiting access to the jab, even as Castex tries to rally public support by taking it himself.
France’s failure to produce its own vaccine has caused political hand-wringing in a country with a proud history of intellectual and scientific achievements.
Emmanuel Macron has previously said that he would take the AstraZeneca shot if offered, but as a 43-year-old he would not be eligible under the new recommendation.
Dominique Le Guludec, head of the French health regulator HAS, said blood clots in those who had received the vaccine were ‘very rare’ but also ‘serious.’
France’s infection rate has reached its highest levels since a November lockdown, prompting Macron’s government to impose new restrictions on 21million people
Passengers pack into the Gare Montparnasse in Paris today as people flee the French capital hours before new lockdown measures take effect for a third of France’s population
She said that while waiting for additional information, those under 55 should get vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson products.
In France, out of 1.4 million AstraZeneca doses administered, cases were seen in a 51-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, she said.
EMA chief Emer Cooke said on Thursday that the watchdog had seen a small number of cases but that the overall risk was no higher than in the general population.
She warned that ‘we still cannot rule out definitively a link between these cases and the vaccine’, but the EMA says the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.
The EMA had recommended adding a warning to product information with the AstraZeneca shot.
The latest vaccine chaos comes as Parisians piled onto trains on Friday hours before the capital and a third of the country is plunged into a new lockdown.
Trains heading out of Paris were fully booked on Friday with platforms packed at the Gare Montparnasse as 21million people brace for the new restrictions.
Castex announced the new measures last night amid a third wave of infections which has thrown Paris hospitals into crisis, with vaccines coming too slowly to protect large chunks of the population.