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People's Daily Online

France health minister says to accelerate vaccination amid criticism over slow pace

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 10:06, January 06, 2021

PARIS, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- France will speed up its vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, said Health Minister Olivier Veran on Monday when visiting a newly set up vaccination center at a Paris hospital in response to mounting criticism at the slowness of the rollout in the country.

"The pace will increase," said the minister, adding that several thousand people have gotten COVID-19 shots on Monday, some 100 vaccination centers would be set up by Wednesday across French cities.

He vowed a faster pace of rollout by "widening the target group to health staff without waiting to complete the vaccination campaign in retirement homes."

France has already received 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots developed by the America's Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, and other 580,000 jabs will be delivered on Wednesday, according to the minister.

It has ordered some 200 million doses from different pharmaceutical companies.

As part of a coordinated European plan, France has launched its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27 targeting the most vulnerable people in nursing homes for the first phase of rollout.

A week on, only 516 people got the jab, well below the 265,610 doses administered in Germany and nearly one million in Britain, data from Oxford University's Our World in Data website showed.

The slow start compared to its European neighbours cast doubt on the government's vaccination programme and ignited critics.

"It's going too slowly... Things have to go faster," Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist and government adviser told France Info radio early Monday.

"The real deadline is to reach 5-10 million (vaccinations) by the end of March, because that's the point at which you have a real impact on the spread of the virus," he said.

Having urged the government to avoid an "unjustifiable slow pace," President Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening called a meeting with top officials to discuss the rollout.

France, which counts the fifth-highest COVID-19 cases in the world and the seventh biggest coronavirus -related deaths globally, aims to vaccinate 1 million people by the end of this month.

In the second phase to start in February, 14 million people with an age-related risk factors or chronic disease will be inoculated. A broader vaccination aimed at the general public is planned for the spring.

The country's National Authority for Health reiterated the strategy of "priorities first to residents and caregivers of nursing homes, then the elderly, then the rest of the population" must be respected.

"We must keep calm and keep priorities," said Dominique Le Guludec, head of health authority in a televised interview with BFMTV-RMC on Monday morning, arguing that the elderly at nursing homes are the most vulnerable.

"If we want to quickly reduce hospitalizations and deaths, we have no choice," she said. "If we vaccinate a lot but not the right ones, it will take months to reduce (hospitalizations and deaths)."

Since the epidemic outbreak, France has registered 65,415 coronavirus-related fatalities, with 378 over the past 24 hours, the biggest daily toll in a week, health authorities data showed on Monday.

A further 4,022 people tested positive for the COVID-19 in one day, bringing the cumulative number of infections to 2,659,750.

Hospital admissions increased for the third day in a row. Another 182 people were hospitalized, bringing the total to 24,995.

Over 230 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 60 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Dec. 29.

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