France launches flu vaccine campaign amid COVID-19 crisis

International

People wearing masks walk down a street in Saint Jean de Luz, southwestern France, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. Some parts of France have been put on maximum coronavirus alert level, which means shutting down bars, implementing stricter measures in restaurants and limiting private gatherings. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

PARIS (AP) — France launched a flu vaccine campaign Tuesday in an effort to avoid facing another epidemic peak as the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the country.

French health authorities have issued official recommendations to prevent potential shortages of flu vaccine, which they fear might happen amid increased demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medical staff are advised to initially reserve it for priority patients, including people over 65, pregnant women and those suffering from respiratory illness and some other diseases. Others are advised to wait for December.

The campaign was launched as French health authorities report a rapid increase in cases of coronavirus infections, with more and more people admitted in hospitals. COVID-19 patients now occupy more than 42% of intensive care unit beds in the Paris region.

Sylvie Ducamp, 73, was among the first patients to get the flu vaccine at a Paris pharmacy on Tuesday morning.

“Getting the flu shot allows you not to confuse flu symptoms with COVID-19 symptoms and it helps the doctors,” she told The Associated Press.

Karima Ameri, 45, said her doctor advised her to get the vaccine quickly to avoid a potential shortage “because more and more people want to be vaccinated precisely out of fear of being weakened by the flu” and contracting COVID-19.

Pharmacist assistant Amira Ben Guitar said “we prepared adequate supplies of the vaccine, in this pharmacy, we have prepared adequate stock. The only fear that we can have is if there are more people who want to be vaccinated than in previous years.”

Health Minister Olivier Veran said that France ordered 15.5 million of vaccine doses — an increase of 30% compared to last year.

Last winter, about 52% of people over age 65 received the flu vaccine, according to French health authorities. This year, French authorities have set a goal to reach up to 75%.

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