France backtracks to allow 'vaccinodromes' to speed up stuttering inoculation drive

French government aims to vaccinate 3.8 million people in next four weeks

TOPSHOT - A cycling French team member trains on a track as patients are being vaccinated with Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in the velodrome national used as a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris on March 23, 2021. / AFP / Alain JOCARD
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France is opening huge vaccine centres to quicken its stuttering inoculation campaign amid fears that a third wave has hit the country.
This move overturns a previous policy of confining vaccination sites to surgeries, hospitals and community halls.

At least 35 vaccinodromes will be opened, including at the Stade de France in Paris and the Velodrome in Marseille, with at least one site in each region.

Local officials have also called for vaccine priority groups to be expanded so that more people can receive injections.

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said France would lower the minimum vaccination age from 75 to 70.

"The heart of the battle in the coming weeks and months will be the vaccination, morning, noon and night," Mr Macron said.

"Vaccination is a national priority.”

France wants to intensify its programme so that another 3.8 million people have the first dose by mid-April, and the vaccination centres will play a key part.

At the Stade de France, the government aims to vaccinate 10,000 people a week from April 6.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said France would follow the UK and US, where sports stadiums have been used for inoculation sites.

"The army's health service will work on developing a certain number of large vaccination centres," Mr Veran said.

Vaccinations will take place in the stadium halls rather than on the pitch, and each location will be at least 1,800 square metres and staffed by 120 people.

France believes it can increase vaccinations now because it is expecting three million doses to arrive in April.

Paris has set a target of giving 10 million people their first injection by mid-April and 20 million by mid-May.

So far, only about 6.2 million people have received a first dose of vaccine in the country, Public Health France said.

In Saint Denis, home to the Stade de France, only 88,000 residents, or 5.5 per cent, have had their first dose.

"We have a lot of vulnerable people in Seine-Saint-Denis for whom it is difficult to reach vaccination centres, even when they are located in neighbouring towns," Mayor Azzedine Taib said.

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The French health system will face an “unprecedented violent shock” in less than a month if Covid-19 cases are not brought under control, leading medical workers said.

Frederic Valletoux, president of the French hospital federation, said the number of people in intensive care is at a four-month high.

"The epidemic is gathering pace and the figures are exploding," Mr Valletoux told LCI TV.

His warning came as France imposed a month-long lockdown on Paris and parts of the north to contain highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

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