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France's Macron eyes COVID-19 vaccination starting by year-end

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, could start being administered as soon as the end of the year in France if approved by regulators.

Family members watch French President Emmanuel Macron on TV as he addresses the nation about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and the lockdown restrictions, in Gouzeaucourt, France, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

“We are going to organise a swift and massive vaccination campaign,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation detailing how the country would start easing a lockdown this weekend.

“We will very likely, and pending authorisation by health authorities, start vaccination of the most vulnerable populations, hence the elderly, as soon as the end of December, early January,” he said, adding other population groups would be offered the vaccination consecutively.

Vaccination would not be compulsory, Macron said.

Governments in Europe are working to map out what could be the biggest vaccination scheme in decades.

The task appears particularly daunting in France, which has one of the world’s lowest levels of trust in vaccines.

According to an Ipsos poll for the World Economic Forum, only 59% of French respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available, compared with 67% in the United States and 85% in Britain.

Macron said a scientific committee would be established to monitor vaccinations and that a group of citizens would also take part to ensure transparency.

Officials at the Health Ministry said a task force supervised by the prime minister’s office was currently in charge of the logistics aspects and that equipment to store vaccines at very low temperatures had been purchased.

A series of other public bodies would also offer advice on how to conduct vaccinations in the coming months, they said.

TIMING QUESTIONS

The time frame outlined by Macron is ambitious given the delays usually considered by safety agencies to process and assess data before approving a product and the subsequent time needed on the ground for deployment.

Macron’s comments echoed those of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), whose new chief was quoted as saying on Tuesday the organisation could produce a scientific opinion on COVID-19 vaccines seeking regulatory approval by the end of the year in a best-case scenario.

But it not yet clear when exactly agencies will make a final decision, even though they are considering data as it becomes available.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca followed U.S. rivals Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc on Monday in publishing successful trial data for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Interim late-stage trial results for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine published on Nov. 11 showed its shot was 92% effective.

There is no internationally approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.4 million people and disrupted the world economy.

The European Union has so far secured deals with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, CureVac, Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna.

With 1.9 billion doses expected at this stage to reach the EU, France aims to secure about 295 million doses, according to a government source.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Peter Cooney

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