French data shows 75% of AstraZeneca doses are unused

Paris widens number of people for whom vaccine is available but still lags behind in doses administered

General practitioner Jean Louis Bensoussan, administers a dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a patient, in Gragnague near Toulouse, southern France, on February 26, 2021. Private practitioners in France started vaccinating vulnerable patients between 50 and 64 at their medical offices on February 25, as part of a new stage in the country's Covid-19 vaccination campaign. / AFP / Fred SCHEIBER
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The French government was under pressure on Tuesday to speed up its vaccination programme after new figures showed that three in four doses delivered by AstraZeneca had gone unused.

An official in the health ministry said on Tuesday that of 600,000 doses delivered to health centres since early February, only a quarter had been administered.

"There is an issue with uptake," the official said.

On Monday evening, France moved to widen the population eligible for the Anglo-Swedish firm's vaccine, which until now has been only offered to medical and care personnel below 65 years old and people in high-risk categories aged between 50 and 64.

Previous guidance prevented the vaccination being offered to anyone aged over 65.

But Health Minister Olivier Veran reversed this stance after new data showed the vaccine's efficacy.

"Now that we have good news about AstraZeneca, we absolutely need to find a place for this vaccine in our vaccination strategy," the health ministry official said.

France's top health authority also changed its advice on Tuesday, saying that pharmacy workers should be able to administer all three authorised vaccinations against Covid-19.

It previously recommended they only have access to the AstraZeneca shot, but not those produced by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, which require storage in ultra-low temperature freezers.

France's vaccine strategy has been criticised as slow and overly bureaucratic.

The country lags far behind trail-blazing neighbour Britain, as well as Germany and Italy, measured by the number of doses administered.