Covid-19: why the second vaccine booster campaign is slipping in France

This is a “clearly insufficient” rate according to the government: a quarter of eligible people have received their second booster vaccine against Covid-19. To date, less than 2.2 million second boosters have been injected, out of more than 8.7 million eligible people, mainly those over 60, as well as the immunocompromised. With the six-month rule since the first reminder, this eligible population figure will exceed 9 million at the start of July 2022.

Even though, with almost 200,000 fourth doses injected, the past week has been the most prolific since the launch of the campaign in mid-March 2022, in general, “it’s not going fast enough, there’s no enough people who come to be vaccinated”, worried the Ministry of Health during a press briefing on Tuesday May 21. The government wants to set an example: the Minister of Health Brigitte Bourguignon, suspended since her defeat in the legislative elections, received her second booster dose at the end of the day this Thursday, June 23 in a Parisian pharmacy. “I call for this vaccination, it must be intensified, it is the best weapon we have”, she said.

The government has called on older people to receive the injection “as soon as possible”, as a “moderate epidemic recovery” begins. An increase in cases of 111% was noted in France between June 10 and 19. This is the largest increase observed in Europe during this period, while most European countries are affected by this epidemic recovery carried by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. This moderate epidemic recovery is already accompanied by a small recovery in hospitalizations and risks leading to a delayed increase in critical care admissions and deaths.

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“The absolute priority is that those over 80, but also those aged 60-79, receive a second booster dose, because this allows protection against serious forms to be brought up to a good level”, indicates to L’Express Pr Alain Fischer, president of the Council of orientation of the vaccine strategy. “Who goes to the hospital today? Fragile people or those who are insufficiently vaccinated. There are still nearly 50 deaths a day, which is not negligible,” he notes.

“The severity of Omicron is at least at the level of the initial variant in the unvaccinated population so unfortunately the virus has not yet reached a stage where it does not form a serious form or it does not kill”, recalls with L’Express epidemiologist Pascal Crépey. The teacher-researcher at the School of Advanced Studies in Public Health in Rennes believes that this second reminder “is now even more relevant” in the face of the BA.5 sub-variant than when it was offered to the eligible public, mid- march.

To explain the reasons for this delay in the second booster dose, Professor Alain Fischer cites “the barrier measures which have been taken”, “the campaigns around vaccination which have been less strong” and “a general weariness around this epidemic. “People no longer feel concerned, they have taken off their masks, they want to enjoy life”, also observes with L’Express Corinne Le Sauder. The president of the Federation of Doctors of France (FMF) notes that the French “are a bit fed up with vaccination,” with three doses received in a year and the possibility of having a fourth.

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The head of the FMF also points to the “questions” raised by the effectiveness of vaccination. “A lot of people caught Covid-19 at the start of the year when they had just had a booster dose, some got their second booster and then caught Omicron after… They can suddenly wonder if it’s It is necessary to be vaccinated with the Omicron variant”, she notes. “Current vaccines are not perfect, but they are good,” insists Professor Alain Fischer, indicating that “you should not wait until this fall” to receive your fourth dose.

The concern is particularly acute for residents of nursing homes (48% of eligible vaccinated) and other people over the age of 80 (31%), who must “get vaccinated as soon as possible to get through the summer and fall serenely”, insisted the Ministry of Health. In addition, 10% of people over 80 are still not vaccinated. “It’s unfortunate, because they are obviously at high risk”, observes Professor Alain Fischer, recalling that “the over 80s are less mobile, less autonomous and more isolated”. “There may be in these people a form of renunciation of care”, notes Pascal Crépey.

The will of the authorities to accelerate the vaccination campaign for the second booster dose could however come up against difficulties in practice at the time of the summer holidays insofar as the doctors and pharmacists mobilized to carry out these injections will go on leave. “We are already carrying out unscheduled care, if in addition to that we are given the booster dose, I don’t know how we will be able to do this summer”, warns Corinne Le Sauder. Its Federation of Doctors of France is currently in discussion with pharmacists in order to find ways to organize themselves this summer, “because they are also going to go on vacation”, she recalls. “In any case, this will cause problems and we will end up with far too much work”, regrets this general practitioner. Pascal Crépey, however, wants to be optimistic: according to him, “we can expect a resurgence of vaccination” soon “due to the rebound of the epidemic, as we have already seen in the past”.

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