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HEALTH

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

After France made second booster doses available to all groups, some wondering whether they could qualify for a third booster, using the new dual-strain vaccines.

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?
A nurse prepares a dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease Covid-19 on January 12, 2022. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

Question: I’m in my 70s and I had my second booster back in the summer but now I see that the new dual-strain vaccines are available – should I be getting an extra booster with the new type of vaccine?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd includes newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

It was followed by the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in mid October.

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

As of November 28th, 9.4 percent of the over-80s and 7.2 percent of the 60-79s had received a new injection, representing two million doses distributed since October 3rd, when the fall campaign went into place.

On December 9th, French government officials, such as Minister of Health François Braun announced that the second booster should be available to all groups, not just vulnerable people.

With a significant amount of the eligible population having already received a fourth vaccine, many are wondering whether they will be eligible for a fifth (or third booster), specifically one in the new dual-strain vaccine format.

According to Virginie, a representative from HAS – France’s health authority – the organisation “no longer thinks in terms of doses for high-risk people and immunocompromised patients.”

Specifically, the HAS recommends that a new injection be given – and if possible one of the dual-strain vaccines – “regardless of the number of injections received up to now”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

However, French health authorities specified that the additional booster should “respect the minimum recommended time between two doses.”

“This depends based on your profile – for people aged 80 and over, residents of nursing homes or long-term care units (USLD) and those who are immunocompromised, the wait-time is three months between jabs. For the others, the delay is set at six months.”

For those who have already been infected by Covid-19, the HAS recommends that if you are eligible for a second (or third booster) that the additional dose “is still recommended, with a minimum delay of three months after infection.”

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HEALTH

The different ways you can make a doctor’s appointment in France

Booking a medical appointment in France can be time-consuming – especially if you are new to the country and are looking for an English-speaking doctor.

The different ways you can make a doctor's appointment in France

You do not need a carte vitale to book a doctor’s appointment in France – anyone who needs medical help while in the country is entitled to it, but you may not be entitled to any reimbursement if you are not part of the social security system.

Booking a GP’s appointment can be as simple as phoning up your friendly neighbourhood GP, or using an online service such as Doctolib. 

It helps a lot, if you have a médecin traitant – an attending GP, who adds you (and your family, if they can) to their list of patients. 

READ ALSO Explained: How to register with a doctor in France

It is not always easy to find one. Some parts of the country are short of GPs, which means doctors’ lists can fill up very quickly. But it is important that anyone who lives in France is registered with a named GP, especially if they have a carte vitale.

As well as being the main point of contact between patients and the medical profession in all its guises, it is financially responsible to be registered with a GP in France.

Reimbursement on consultations is typically 70 percent through the French healthcare system, but just 30 percent for anyone without a declared doctor. Meanwhile, top-up mutuelle health insurance companies usually require you to declare a médecin traitant and if you don’t, you may not be able to receive reimbursements on certain treatments.

Bear in mind, it is your responsibility to register with a local médecin traitant. But, even after you have done so, you can still make an appointment with any doctor, anywhere in France, and arrange specialist treatment, if you need it. 

READ ALSO 5 things to know about visiting a doctor in France

How do you go about making a GP appointment in France?

There are several options.

Some health centres – more often in larger towns and cities – operate a walk-in policy. But expect waits to be lengthy. Do not, however, assume that your GP operates a system like this.

You can phone for an appointment. This is another very common method. Your GP will have their own system for making appointments – which may even include something that looks, to the uninitiated, very much like a casual walk-in policy. 

Some may have an assistant to deal with booking appointments and other administration. Others may deal with appointments themselves, and may – for example – operate some sort of triage system based on voice messages from patients. 

What about online booking systems?

And many practitioners are now attached to websites, such as Doctolib. As of 2023, about half of all GP appointments in France were made using Doctolib.

READ ALSO How to use: French medical website Doctolib

Be aware that other online booking systems are available. Doctolib is one of the best known, but your GP may be attached to another system, like the health ministry approved site ‘LeMedecin.Fr’.

This website also has a feature where you can take an immediate online consultation with whatever doctor is available at that moment. By clicking ‘Consultez en vidéo maintenant’ you will be connected to the next doctor who is free. This option may involve an additional charge between €5-10 on top of the price of the consultation, and you will be expected to pay when booking.

If you have any trouble with either of these websites, you can go through the list of registered generalists per département on the ‘Ameli’ website. If you use this option, you will need to call the doctor to see if they are open or available for appointments.

In terms of wait times, online systems have helped to significantly reduce the delay between booking and getting an appointment.

According to a 2023 study by Doctolib, about half of all GP appointments were available within three days from the time of booking on their platform.

Similarly, you can use online platforms to check the medical professional’s qualifications and languages spoken, as well as filter based on the doctor’s English abilities. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt because not every medical professional with English listed on their Doctolib page speaks fluent English. 

An increasing number of doctorsoffer video consultations, known as télémédecine in France. This allows professionals – particularly those in more rural areas – to diagnose less serious conditions remotely. This type of consultation is usually only available from those medical practices that are attached to online booking systems. 

Some pharmacies have also begun offering walk-in télémedicine consults, using ‘Medadom’ machines. More information here.

What about specialists?

In France, you book your own consultations with specialists, even if you are referred by a doctor (your GP may offer a recommendation, but won’t always). The good news is that many specialists do use online booking services. Those that do not usually have assistants to take care of the appointments.

READ ALSO: Urgent care: How to get non-emergency medical treatment in France

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