COVID-19: France Defends Vaccine Rollout, Denies Favouritism

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BETHESDA, MARYLAND – DECEMBER 14: SPC Angel Laureano holds a COVID-19 vaccine at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Bethesda, Maryland. Manuel Balce Ceneta-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

France on Wednesday defended its vaccination strategy against Covid-19, which has seen only 7,000 people immunised so far, dismissing as “absurd” claims of holding out for a vaccine co-produced by a French firm.

Europe Minister Clement Beaune said the vaccination drive needed to be a coordinated process throughout the EU using multiple sources and could not depend on one single company.

France’s performance since its drive started on December 27, compares with hundreds of thousands given the vaccine in Germany and over 1.3 million in the UK, which started earlier.

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The campaign in the EU is so far solely using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — though a vaccine from US firm Moderna was approved by a watchdog Wednesday and the bloc is keen to bring other vaccine sources online.

But a vaccine developed by France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK may only be ready later in the year due to delays and will still need approval.

“The vaccine strategy cannot be based on a single vaccine. Hence the importance of having done this on a European level which guarantees us access to at least six vaccines,” Beaune told CNews television.

He said this would mean two billion doses across the bloc, which would be enough for the entire population. “There will be no shortage but it won’t all come in one day,” he said.

Allegations have been aired in Germany by leftwing politicians but also the hugely influential mass circulation Bild daily that France pressured the EU to order fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to help Sanofi.

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In comments late Tuesday, Beaune described such claims as “unacceptable and false”.

“It is absurd to pit countries and labs against each other, all countries need all vaccines and to vaccinate as many people as possible by summer.”

“Isolated strategies can be a temptation in the short term, but they are ineffective over time,” he said.

The French government on Tuesday vowed to drastically speed up vaccinations, notably with a change of strategy to include health workers over 50 as well as residents of care homes.

But this has not dampened criticism of the laggardly rollout, a problem compounded by high levels of scepticism in France about vaccines.

A widely shared Internet meme Wednesday mocking the government showed a graphic with the large numbers vaccinated elsewhere while France had only given the jab to “Mauricette”, a care home resident who was the first French person to be vaccinated.

The Canard Enchaine weekly was the latest outlet Wednesday to report that President Emmanuel Macron is furious over the slow rollout, citing him as yelling at a meeting Monday “enough of the Mauricette syndrome”.

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