France can vaccinate 2.4 million people by end of February - minister

PARIS, Jan 18 (Reuters) - France is on track to reach its target of vaccinating 1 million people against COVID-19 by the end of January and has enough doses to increase the total to 2.4 million by the end of February, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Monday.

During a visit to a vaccination centre in the eastern city of Grenoble, Veran told reporters that France had now set up about 800 such centres.

“With the acceleration of the vaccination campaign in retirement homes, we will comfortably reach our goal of 1 million French people vaccinated by the end of this month,” he said.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported that France had vaccinated more than 422,000 people since the start of the vaccination campaign on Dec. 26.

But France still trails far behind several other European countries such as Britain, where the number of people who have received a first dose of the vaccination had reached 3.2 million by Friday. In Germany and Italy, more than 1 million people had been vaccinated at the end of last week.

Veran said the main challenge in France - which has reported nearly 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, the highest in the Europe Union - was not the logistics of the vaccination process but the delivery of doses.

A new delivery of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech would arrive this week and more would be arriving in coming weeks, he said.

With the vaccines already at its disposal, France will be able to have vaccinated 2.4 million people by the end of February, Veran said.

That total could rise to 4 million once vaccines it has ordered from other pharmaceutical companies are approved by health authorities, he said.

On Thursday, Veran said France was being supplied with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine per week, an amount that will rise to 1 million per week, and that he hoped 5 million people in France will have been vaccinated by Easter.

From Monday, coronavirus vaccinations are available to all people aged over 75 - as opposed to only people in retirement homes - and for people with serious health issues.

The vaccine is already available for health workers 50 and older.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq, Editing by Timothy Heritage