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COVID vaccine: France widens use of AstraZeneca jab, backs single dose for COVID patients

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By Euronews  with AFP
A nurse prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Edouard Herriot hospital, in Lyon, France on Feb 6, 2021.
A nurse prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Edouard Herriot hospital, in Lyon, France on Feb 6, 2021.   -   Copyright  Olivier Chassignole, Pool via AP

The French government partly reversed on Monday its decision not to use the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for the elderly.

The government also endorsed a recommendation from the country's High Authority for Health (HAS) to administer a single dose of the vaccine to people who have previously contracted the deadly virus, becoming the first country to do so.

Health Minister Olivier Véran told France 2 on Monday evening that the AstraZeneca jab has now been approved for people aged 65-74 with "co-morbidities".

However, people over 75 will continue to receive either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna one.

In early February, Paris had ruled out using the AstraZeneca vaccine in people over the age of 65 citing insufficient clinical trial for older people. It was instead prioritised for health care workers and people between the ages of 50 and 64 with comorbidities, meaning they have another condition that makes the virus more deadly.

But many caregivers have been reluctant to give the vaccine because of more pronounced side effects, most often strong flu-like symptoms, in younger people. Questions have also arisen about the effectiveness of the serum in countering the South African variant.

Véran said that the HAS "now considers, as of today, that all the vaccines we have in France, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, are remarkably effective". He added that extending the use of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine will make it possible to reach "2.5 million French people".

He also announced that the government has endorsed a HAS recommendation issued last month for people who have previously contracted COVID-19 to receive a single dose of the vaccine.

The HAS said then that people who have recovered from the disease "retain an immune memory" and that a "single dose of the vaccine will thus act as a booster".

It recommended that the one dose be administered at least three months after contracting the virus and up to six months later.

France is the seventh most heavily impacted country in the world with a COVID-19 death toll of more than 86,800. Over 3.7 million cases have also been confirmed since the beginning of the pandemic

Véran described the decision as "good news", especially for French people "who will now be able to get" their second dose.

"Just for the month of March, we expect to offer a first vaccination to 6 million French people," he said, which "will make a total of 9 million since the beginning of the campaign."

The French government was harshly criticised in January for the slow roll-out of the vaccine and has since announced plans for the vaccination campaign to be completed by the end of the summer.

By February 28, just under 3 million French people had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to COVID Tracker.

This works out at over 6.7 doses per 100 people, below rates observed in other member states including Denmark, Poland, Romania, Spain, Germany and Italy, according to Our World in Data.