The French government says older people with pre-existing conditions can now get AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, revising its stance on the issue.
“People affected by co-morbidities can be vaccinated with AstraZeneca, including those aged between 65 and 74,” the health minister said.
Last month France approved use of the vaccine for under-65s only, citing lack of data for older people.
Since then studies have shown the jab is highly effective among the elderly.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used across the UK, but several EU countries are still limiting it to the under-65s, including Germany.
The EU drugs regulator has approved it for all adults, but it is up to each member to set its own roll-out policy.
In a further development, Canada’s immunisation commission on Monday advised against giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to over-65s, saying clinical trial data for that age group was too limited.
What are the French saying?
Speaking on television, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said people with pre-existing conditions could get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from GP surgeries, hospitals and “within days” from pharmacies.
Those aged over 75 will still be offered either Pfizer or Moderna jabs in a vaccination centre, he added.
In January French President Emmanuel Macron said the AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for older age groups – a claim strongly rejected at the time by the UK officials and scientists.
But after a European Council meeting on Friday, he said: “If this is the vaccine I’m offered, obviously I would take it.”
As more data has emerged, French health officials have tried to convince people that it is just as safe and effective as other Covid-19 vaccines.
Just 273,000 AstraZeneca doses have been administered in France out of 1.7m received by the end of February, health ministry figures show.
Some French doctors had spurned the vaccine, citing initial side-effects in some people and trial data suggesting it offered minimal protection against mild disease from the South African Covid variant, though the developer said it still protects against severe disease.
The MG France doctors’ association has since hit back at criticism of the AstraZeneca jab and the fact that many doses remain unused. The man in charge of France’s vaccine rollout has also backed it, saying it has unfairly received a “bad press”.
About 3m people have so far received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in France – against more than 20m in the UK, which has roughly the same population.
France is still struggling to control increased infection rates in some areas, despite a continuing national night-time curfew.
Bars, restaurants and museums remain closed and Mr Véran said that the authorities would look this week at whether tougher measures, such as lockdowns, would be needed in badly affected localities.
What is the situation in Germany?
Germany is also concerned that AstraZeneca jabs are going to waste and there are calls to widen the number of priority groups who can receive it. Only 240,000 of 1.45 million doses had been used by 23 February.
On Sunday, a senior German immunologist, Carsten Watzl, urged his country to change its mind and start allowing over-65s to receive the vaccine.
Germany’s vaccine commission is currently reviewing its recommendation and Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that it was “a vaccine that can be trusted”.