France will give all adults access to COVID-19 vaccine booster shots starting Saturday, as part of a series of measures to stymie the fifth wave of its pandemic and avoid having to take more drastic steps such as curfews or lockdowns, Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Thursday.
Adults over 18 will be allowed to get a third dose — which actually can be the second dose for people who have recovered from COVID-19 — five months after their last injection. Starting January 15, the booster jab will become a requirement to have a valid vaccine passport. The ubiquitous QR-code pass, which grants access to restaurants and other public spaces, will expire for adults who haven’t gotten their third shot seven months after the last injection.
Six million adults have already received booster shots, leaving 19 million people who will be eligible from starting Saturday. Some 89 percent of adults have received the first two shots (or single shot if they have recovered from COVID-19), according to health officials.
France is also restricting the validity of negative PCR tests in the vaccine passport for unvaccinated people from 72 hours to 24 hours, making not getting jabbed even more burdensome. Masks will become compulsory again in public spaces like cinemas and restaurants and some crowded outdoor locations like Christmas markets.
“France is now experiencing a fifth wave, which will undoubtedly be stronger and longer than the one that occurred this summer,” Véran told a press conference. “We still believe that we can get through this wave without resorting to the most restrictive tools.”
A record number of almost 360,000 booster shot appointments were made Wednesday on Doctolib, France’s main privately-owned medical appointment platform.
Véran also said that molnupiravir, an antiviral drug developed by MSD and Ridgeback, would be distributed in France starting early December. Family doctors will be allowed to prescribe it to patients with comorbidities and symptomatic forms of COVID-19. Véran has “high hopes” in the drug, he said.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also announced that primary school classes will no longer be closed as soon as the first case of COVID-19 is detected.
Instead, starting next week entire classes will be tested and only pupils with a negative result will be allowed to return to school. Some 8,500 classrooms are currently closed as a result of COVID-19.
France reported more than 30,000 daily cases for the second day in a row on Wednesday, three times the level reported on November 14.
This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.