France plans coronavirus vaccine drive for general population in April

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France plans a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign between April and June next year after an initial drive for the most vulnerable this winter, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday. Regulators said they would consider requests for emergency rollout of vaccines this month.

Macron told a press briefing early 2021 will see an initial drive targeted to the most fragile and exposed groups followed by a second campaign for the rest of the population.

The announcement corresponded to what the president indicated in a nationwide address on 25 November.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told lawmakers that residents of care homes and some staff would have priority for vaccinations.

Macron indicated an expected limited availability of vaccines by the end of the year and difficult storage conditions for first-generation vaccines meant mass vaccinations would have to wait.

Emergency approval in December

United States firm Moderna said Monday it was filing for emergency authorisation of its vaccine in the US and Europe, boosting hopes the first shots could be ready for the end of this year.

Another vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has also been submitted for approval in Europe and North America in recent days. Both vaccines claim around 95 percent effectiveness.

Regulators in the US and in Europe said they would decide this month or early next month whether to grant emergency approval.

The European Medicines Agency said Tuesday it planned to decide on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 29 December and on the Moderna vaccine as early as 12 January.

Vaccine scepticism in France

Macron said priority for vaccines would be given to people over 75 and health workers, then to people over 50, then people exposed to high risks of infection in their jobs or precarious social conditions.

Macron reiterated his promise that shots would not be mandatory, saying France would adopt “a strategy of persuasion and transparency”.

France is one of the most vaccine-sceptical nations, with a weekend poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showing only 41 percent of French people planned to get vaccinated.

(with newswires)