French health authority recommends autumn Covid vaccine campaign

France's health regulator has called for an autumn Covid-19 vaccination campaign for at-risk groups, putting the Covid vaccine on a similar footing the the flu shot, which is administered annually to certain groups.

French health authority recommends autumn Covid vaccine campaign
A man receives a dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 near Marseille. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

France’s health authority, the Haute autorité de Santé (HAS) released its recommendations for 2023, and advised an autumn vaccination campaign against Covid-19 for persons at-risk of developing a severe form of the disease.

It recommends that an autumn Covid vaccine campaign be run alongside the seasonal flu vaccine drives, targeting people at risk from Covid – over 65s, people with long-term illnesses or conditions and pregnant women. 

The recommendation is that the most vulnerable individuals – including immunocompromised people, those aged over 80 years old, and those at very high risk of contracting Covid-19 – could be offered another booster in the spring depending “on the state of their health and their level of vaccine protection”.

French health authorities also clarified that there should be at least six months between doses, and that it will be the bivalent mRNA vaccines (ex Pfizer and Moderna) which will be prioritised.

The HAS can only issue recommendations, any final decision is up to the government.

Nevertheless, immunologist, Stéphane Paul, told Le Parisien: “I think that we will go for an annual vaccination for at-risk populations”, an idea that has already been recommended in other parts of the world, including in England.

Current Covid-19 recommendations in France

As of February 1st, France relaxed some of its Covid-19 rules, as it brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

On February 15th, the country also dropped the requirement that those travelling from China to France present a negative test taken 48 hours before the flight to board the plane.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

This means that, as of February 2023, there are no Covid-related restrictions on arrivals into France from any country.

Masks remain ‘strongly recommended’ on public transport but are not compulsory anywhere in the country, with the exception of certain healthcare settings. 

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French pharmacies licensed to give vaccines without prescription

French pharmacists will now be able to administer more types of vaccine without a prescription, in a move aimed at making it easier to access vaccination.

French pharmacies licensed to give vaccines without prescription

The government has been gradually expanding the role of French pharmacists when it comes to vaccinations – in an effort to streamline the process and make it easier for people to get the shots they need.

Previously, people needed to visit their doctor to get a prescription for the vaccine, go to the pharmacy and get the vaccination itself and then in some cases return to the doctor to get the vaccine injected.

The government previously simplified this system to allow pharmacists to administer the injection, but they will now be able to administer 10 common vaccines without the need for a doctor’s prescription – making a one-stop-shop for vaccinations and saving time for both patients and doctors.

The expansion of the pharmacists’ role began in 2019 when the seasonal flu vaccination campaign was expanded to pharmacies, allowing people to go to their local pharmacy on a walk-in basis and get their shot without a prescription.

During the pandemic pharmacists were also allowed to administer the Covid vaccine (and subsequent booster shots) to anyone who wanted it without the need for a prescription.

Now this has been expanded again to also cover common childhood vaccines.

Since a decree published on August 9th, the following vaccines have been available from pharmacists without prescription, for people aged 11 and over. Under 11s will still require a prescription – or can get the standard childhood vaccines from a doctor, nurse or midwife.

  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Seasonal flu
  • Covid-19
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Chickenpox
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – the vaccination that prevents the infection that is the most common cause of cervical cancer

Other vaccines, including pre-travel vaccines such as yellow fever or hepatitus still require a visit to the doctor to get a prescription.

The standard cost for vaccines in a pharmacy is €7.50 if you have a doctor’s prescription or €9.60 without prescription, and if you have a carte vitale 65 percent of that cost will be reimbursed in most cases. If you have a mutuelle, in most cases that will reimburse the remaining cost.

This year the seasonal flu and Covid vaccine booster campaigns will both be run in the autumn, although precise details including the start date of the campaigns have not yet been released. 

For the seasonal flu shot people in high risk groups including the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions will receive an invitation to get their vaccine, which is free.

Those who do not fall into any of the high-risk groups can still get the vaccine from their pharmacy at a slightly later date, but will have to pay for it. Last year the cost of the vaccine was €8. 

Some pharmacies offer vaccines on a walk-in basis while others require to make an appointment in advance. Appointments can usually be made in store, by phone or via the medical app Doctolib.