Her name is Mauricette, she is 78 years old: she is the first French to have been vaccinated against Covid-19. "I'm moved" the former cleaner told AFP. Mauricette has been vaccinated at 11 a.m. in the long term care unit in the René-Muret hospital in Sevran. About twenty elderly people and caregivers are said to be vaccinated the same day as France is launching the vaccine campaign in Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis) and then Dijon.
After the retired woman, it was Dr. Jean-Jacques Monsuez - a 65-year-old heart doctor working at the René-Muret hospital - who was vaccinated. The doctor said he though about "all those who lost their lives" when he was vaccinated.
The first doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech - called COMIRNATY - are being delivere in France and will be soon injected to vulnerable people, in compliance with the governmental vaccine strategy.
A long authorization process
Europe can now vaccinate against Covid! This Monday December 21, 2020, in the evening the European Commission has announced they have approved issuing Pfizer vaccine, after it has been approved earlier that day by the European Medicines Agency. An approval considered as the last step to enable European countries to launch their vaccine campaigns.
“This decisive moment in our efforts to deliver safe and effective vaccines to Europeans” European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen explained a few minutes before the Commission announced the decision. Since last night then, European Union countries can vaccinate their inhabitants. Campaigns are to be launched across Europe starting December 27, as German Health Minister Jens Spahn explained a few days ago.
In France, the vaccine campaign is set to start on December 27 on the condition the Haute Autorité de Santé also gives the green light: this Thursday December 24, 2020 it has given the green light. Prime Minister Jean Castex did not miss the occasion to show enthusiasm for this historical European decision: “To all skeptics, to all those who were doubtful, Europe has shown it is more than a big market: a community of fate. It is its uniqueness, and it is our strength against the crisis” he tweeted.
The first vaccines are to be injected in France from Sunday December 27 in nursing homes. The government’s goal is to reach one million vaccines by January 2021 in nursing homes. The second phase is expected to reach 14 million people said to be at risk (“aged 75+, then from 65 to 74, then health caregivers and medico-social workers at least 50 years old or showing comorbidities” Jean Castex explained). Last but not least, the rest of the population with priority given to people aged 50-64, security people, education staff, vulnerable people in precarious situation. The third phase is said to last until Spring 2021.
Fears and expectations
There are many contentious feelings around this vaccine. On one side, one fear adverse effects, the difficult conditions to store the injection and the evolution of the disease. As a matter of fact, the discovery of a mutant strain of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom raises a question as to the effectiveness of the vaccine. “At this moment there is no evidence to suggest this vaccine will not work against the new variant," European Medicines Agency (EMA) chief Emer Cooke told Le Parisien.
Health Minister Olivier Véran explained to deputies that “Pfizer vaccine requires to be stocked at -80°C. As soon as it is defrosted, we have five days to vaccinate and it cannot bear being transported for over twelve hours before being injected”. Hence the importance of a thoroughly prepared vaccine campaign to avoid wasting doses of vaccine.
Despite these difficulties, the arrival of vaccine in France has experts excited. Approved for one year, on the condition it is closely monitored, the Pfier/BioNTech vaccine seems to be Europe’s savior: “Without vaccine, we cannot make it, the situation is truly critical. This vaccine, even though we lack perspective as to the life-span of immunity it gives, three or six months, is a small weapon that arrives just on time” CNRS virus expert Etienne Decroly says enthusiastically.
Despite adverse effects reported, the development and effectiveness of this vaccine are impressive: created in only eight months, it is 95% effective, that is to say, the same results as vaccines against rubella and measles. Pfizer is also two to three times more effective than the flu vaccine.
Careful though, the vaccine campaign is not likely to prevent from a third wave of the epidemic and a possible third lockdown. “With the Holidays and the mix of generations for Christmas, we are expected a third wave at the end of the first week of January” Lille University Hospital public health professor Philippe Amouyel warns. The effects of vaccination are a bit long to settle in “because it takes two injections and 21 days apart. […] And the arrival of the first antibodies only occur ten days after, but it can really help to avoid a fourth wave” he concludes.