France Speeds Up Vaccine Rollout as Slow Start Pressures Macron
(Bloomberg) -- The French government is trying to make up for a slow start to its Covid-19 vaccination program after criticism from doctors and opposition politicians.
Several thousand people were given a shot on Monday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on a visit to a Paris hospital. That’s up from just over 500 as of Jan. 1. A total of 1 million doses will be available by the end of the week, he said.
“We’ve decided to accelerate this vaccination campaign by widening the priority targets to include medical staff without waiting to complete vaccinations in nursing homes,” Veran said. “It’ll ramp up even more from Wednesday.”
The government is stepping up its efforts after opposition politicians described the lack of progress as a “national scandal” and doctors called for a faster rollout of the Covid shot. In a country where comparisons with neighboring Germany is a national obsession, the figures so far are particularly embarrassing for Macron. By the end of Sunday, that country had administered almost 266,000 doses of the vaccine.
Progress has been hit by administrative red tape and a lack of nursing staff over the year-end holidays. At the same time, the government is taking a deliberately cautious approach, allowing people time to give their consent before they’re inoculated.
For President Emmanuel Macron, facing elections in 2022, another problem has been widespread public skepticism. According to an Odoxa poll on Monday, 58% of French don’t want to get the Covid vaccine.
“This whole crisis is going to be tragically politically costly for Macron,” said Bruno Jeanbart, vice-chairman of political pollster OpinionWay. “The French Presidency seems completely and wrongly focused on anti-vaccine movements and has an inaccurate read of the polls on the matter, probably a scar from the Yellow Vest grassroots episode.”
Macron was scheduled to hold a crisis meeting with both Veran and Prime Minister Jean Castex later on Monday.
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By Wednesday, the number of medical centers vaccinating health-care staff will be increased to 100 from 27 on Monday, according to Veran. At the same time, several hundreds of nursing homes will administer Covid jabs to their residents this week, he said.
Further blurring its vaccine strategy, the government plans to select at random 35 citizens to form an ad-hoc committee charged with assessing the inoculation program as it unfolds. The plan has been derided as a gimmick by Macron’s political opponents and widely mocked on social networks.
A spokeswoman for the president’s office said earlier on Monday the strategy of vaccinating in stages hasn’t changed, in spite of the initial sluggishness. That’s in spite of the threat of a potential epidemic rebound after the year-end festivities or the possible arrival of the coronavirus variant from the U.K.
By the end of January, one million French should be vaccinated, rising to 15 to 20 million by end April, as planned, the spokeswoman said.
With nursing homes representing 1% of the French population, and a third of the deaths linked to Covid, they should be the priority, said Dominique Le Guludec, who heads the French National Authority for Health.
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