France says people who have already had Covid-19 should only get ONE vaccine dose – freeing up millions of jabs as EU struggles to get supplies
- French health officials said one dose would ‘remind’ the body how to fight Covid
- The strategy will save vaccine capacity in a country with 3.4million infections
- France has struggled with EU chaos, rigid bureaucracy and vaccine scepticism
France said today that patients who have already had Covid-19 should only get one dose of a vaccine, making it the first country to adopt such a strategy and potentially freeing up millions of doses amid an EU-wide struggle for jab supplies.
Health officials said a single dose would be enough to ‘remind’ the body how to fight off the virus, because an earlier infection would already have generated an immune response similar to a first shot of the vaccine.
With 3.4million people infected in France in the last year, the new advice will reduce the demands on France’s spluttering jab roll-out as it struggles against bungled EU purchasing, rigid bureaucracy and high levels of vaccine scepticism.
It also comes after France lashed out at Britain for its own deviation from the two-dose strategy – a move which has helped the UK vaccinate six times more people than France has done so far.
France has handed out 3.5 doses per 100 people so far, below the EU-wide figure of 4.2 and a long way behind the UK figure of 20.0
The three vaccines approved in the EU – Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – are all administered in two doses because trials showed them to be effective that way.
But preliminary scientific findings have shown that single shot can produce a ‘very robust response’ in people who have already fought off the infection once.
A study of 59 health workers who had recovered from Covid-19 found they had higher antibody levels after just one jab than most people have after two doses.
A separate study found that 41 Covid-19 survivors had antibody levels 10 to 20 times higher after one dose than people who had not been infected before.
‘The data presented in these two papers are not surprising but are very reassuring,’ said immunologist Professor Eleanor Riley of the University of Edinburgh earlier this month.
‘Both papers show that a previous infection with Covid-19 primes the immune system to make a very robust response to a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine.’
Dr Peter English, a former chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, said the papers ‘describe exactly what the science would predict’.
‘It would be entirely rational to focus second, booster doses of vaccine on people who have not had natural priming,’ he said.
France’s public health authority has now adopted that approach, saying those already infected should not get a jab for at least three months after recovering and potentially as long as six months.
‘A single vaccine dose will also play the role of reminding’ people’s immune system how to fight Covid-19, the health authority said.
‘At the moment no country has clearly positioned itself in terms of a sole vaccination dose for people who have already contracted Covid-19,’ it added.
French president Emmanuel Macron, pictured, has been criticised for questioning the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as the country struggles to speed up its jab roll-out
A vaccine still in development by Johnson & Johnson works with a single dose, but it is yet to receive emergency use authorisation from EU and US regulators.
France’s vaccine programme is still in its infancy six weeks after the EU roll-out began, with only two million people getting any kind of jab so far compared to 13.5million in similarly-sized Britain.
And despite the UK virtually abandoning second doses for the time being, Britain has handed out 524,000 of them in total compared to 442,000 in France.
The UK strategy was savaged last week by France’s European affairs minister Clement Beaune, who accused Britain of taking ‘enormous risks’.
‘I do not think that our citizens would accept us taking all these risks contrary to the opinion of our scientists,’ he told French radio.
In fact, the UK’s four chief medical officers have backed the one-dose strategy and said that a single shot offers ‘considerable protection’ at least in the short term.
France is also among the countries to have restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-65s because of the small sample size among older people in clinical trials.
A woman is vaccinated in Paris on Thursday, with France lagging behind Britain and some of its EU neighbours in the vaccine race
Emmanuel Macron was criticised for questioning the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab despite it being approved for all groups by EU regulators.
A survey published earlier this month by YouGov and Imperial College London found 44 per cent of French people saying they would not take a vaccine, the highest figure of any country in the study.
By contrast, people in Britain were the most willing to have a vaccine with 78 per cent saying they would, followed by 67 per cent in Denmark.
France has also suffered the humiliation of seeing its own home-grown vaccine efforts fail to get off the ground in the country of vaccine pioneer Louis Pasteur.
The Pasteur Institute was working on a potential vaccine with drugmaker Merck, but it was shelved last month after disappointing results in trials.
The new strategy for recovered patients could save millions of doses in a country where 3,406,685 people have been infected so far.
Although 80,803 of those have died, there are likely to be many more who have already developed antibodies but were never tested because of limited supplies.
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