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France changes tack and approves AstraZeneca shots for under-75s

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination in La Baule

PARIS (Reuters) - France will allow people under 75 with existing health problems to get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister said, departing from an earlier stance that the vaccine should be for the under-65s only.

The reassessment is likely to help speed up France's vaccination campaign which many have criticized as too slow. As of Saturday, 4.55 million people had received at least one shot of an AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

That compares to 6.17 million in Germany and up to 20.9 million in Britain.

Health Minister Olivier Veran told France 2 television that raising the age limit would enable 2.5 million more people to get vaccinated in coming weeks.

People aged 75 and over would continue to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only, Veran said.

When the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use by EU regulators this year, France and other countries including Germany, Italy and Austria said it should not be given to the elderly, citing a lack of sufficient data.

The country's top advisory body, Haute Autorite de la Sante, (HAS) had said at the time it would later review its position.

Britain has been rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine since January, beginning with the elderly and health workers, after approving its use for all adults.

In a briefing with journalists on Tuesday, HAS officials justified the change of position after a study conducted in Scotland covering 5.4 million people showed both the Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots were highly effective in preventing severe infections.

Among those aged 80 and over - one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19 - vaccination was associated with an 81% reduction in hospitalisation risk in the fourth week after a first dose, when the results for both vaccines were combined.

"These are remarkable results, they enable us to move forward," the head of HAS, Dominique Le Guludec, told reporters.

Another study conducted by Public Health England reached similar conclusions.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraten. Additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Writing by Christian Lowe and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Nick Macfie)