For six weeks, more than 532,000 French people under 55 years of age received a first injection of AstraZeneca before France temporarily suspended vaccination with this drug and then banned its administration to this age group due to the very small risk of very rare cases of thrombosis. In this group of half a million people are mainly adults with risky pathologies and professionals exposed to the virus: doctors, health workers, firefighters and vulnerable people aged 50 to 54 who, from February 6 to March 15, they were vaccinated with the Oxford vaccine.
Finally, on April 9, the country’s main health authority, the High Health Authority (HAS, for its acronym in French), published a statement in which he recommended immunizing these half a million French people with a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna and the interval between both doses was set at 12 weeks. A suggestion that the French Government has integrated into its vaccination strategy from the moment the HAS issued this notice.RELATED
Olivier Véran, Minister of Health and neurologist by profession, was the first member of the Government to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. She received her first dose of AstraZeneca on February 8, at age 41. Three months later, for his second dose, he chose to be vaccinated with Moderna “as indicated by the High Health Authority,” according to his advisers.
With the advent of the Janssen vaccine, which uses the same viral vector technology as AstraZeneca, the HAS once again reassessed the possibility of expanding the administration of these two drugs to younger segments of the population. On May 12, this organ he stood firm in his decision to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 55 years of age and chose to apply “the same restrictions to the Janssen vaccine.”
“For the most part, the slogan of combining two different types of injections is being respected”, details Laetitia Buffet, who leads the Interministerial Working Group on Vaccines of the Ministry of Health. “This does not mean that there is no reluctance when it comes to mixing, obviously. But nevertheless, for the most part, it is respected.”
As specified by the Ministry of Health, in France there is no growing demand among those under 55 to get vaccinated again with AstraZeneca. “If this will is given, we will respond negatively to it,” says Buffet, recalling that the HAS warning implies not inoculating the Oxford vaccine to this group of adults.
Eric Billy, researcher in immuno-oncology in Strasbourg and member of the Du Côté de la Science collective (“On the Side of Science” in French) explains to elDiario.es that those who were vaccinated with a first dose of AstraZeneca are “rather happy “to receive an RNA-type vaccine. “What’s more, we find people over 55 who have to receive a second dose of AstraZeneca and who openly ask for Pfizer or Moderna,” he explains.
According to Thierry Amouroux, spokesman for the Nurses Union (SNPI), for healthcare professionals it is a question of efficacy against variants. “We are very pleased to be able to opt for RNA-type vaccines instead of AstraZeneca, as happened during the first months of the campaign.”
Amouroux says that messenger RNA vaccines protect 94% against the variant detected in the United Kingdom (now called alpha), while AstraZeneca 74%. The data is from a UK study, which actually argues that after two doses both vaccines offer similar protection, although AstraZeneca may take more weeks to provide more complete immunity.
There are no comparable efficacy studies against the variants first detected in South Africa and India (now called beta and delta), but some studies indicate that messenger RNA vaccines are more effective against the variants and that this could be the case for combination of vaccines, although there is still insufficient data.
For weeks, France has seen the AstraZeneca vaccine being administered less and less. “If we analyze the proportion of doses administered over the total doses received in an average of the last seven days, France is far behind its European neighbors,” says Laetitia Buffet.
While Spain, Italy or Germany have injected around 80% of the AstraZeneca doses, France has administered 62% of the received doses. “Obviously, there is an important difference”, recognizes the French Ministry of Health. If France has received some eight million doses since the start of the campaign, 3.2 million remain in the fridge.
The French Government continues efforts to fight the unpopularity of AstraZeneca. “You are 50 times more likely to get a venous thrombosis on a transatlantic flight than by receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine,” Olivier Véran recalled a couple of times. “Vaccines protect us from COVID-19. Let’s overcome mistrust!”