France to begin vaccinating younger children next week: Health Minister

France will start offering coronavirus vaccinations to children aged five to 11 from next Wednesday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Saturday.

A child gets vaccinated
Vaccination of the younger age group is due to start in France next week. GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP

“If all goes well, we will start vaccination of children on the afternoon of December 22nd in specially adapted centres,” he told France Inter radio.

Europe is currently battling to rein in the spread of the highly mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus, believed to be much more infectious. On Friday, French Prime Minster Jean Castex said that France must be ready for a “lightning fast” spread of the Omicron variant seen, adding that it could become dominant in early 2022. 

Denmark, which has seen a surge in cases attributed to the new Omicron variant, and some Austrian regions, already began offering jabs to younger children in November.

The spread of the Omicron variant was also the main reason behind plans to introduce a new, stricter health pass, Veran said, as new restrictions making travel between France and the UK came into force.

Around seven to 10 percent of new Covid cases in France are thought to be of the Omicron variant, Veran said.

“It’s simple, it’s obvious, it’s clear, we want French people to get vaccinated,” he said on the radio, explaining in a tweet that this was to “avoid placing further demands on the 91 percent of people who had already received at least one dose”.

“[Omicron] is a virus which is much, much, much more contagious than the Delta variant. It’s multiplying so quickly,” he said.

The Prime Minister said on Friday that the government planned to transform the current health pass into a vaccine pass. This would mean that people would need to show proof of vaccination – not just negative Covid tests and proof of recent recovery – to enter many public venues.

However, this proposition would have to be approved by the French parliament and would be debated by MPs in January. 

Nearly 3,000 people are in intensive care with Covid-19 in France, according to latest figures.

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France to reinstate unvaccinated healthcare workers

France's health minister said on Sunday that healthcare workers who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 would be able to return to work starting mid-May.

France to reinstate unvaccinated healthcare workers

France’s Minister of Health, François Braun, announced on Sunday that non-vaccinated healthcare workers and caregivers (les soignants) would be able to return to work starting mid-May.

Braun told the local newspaper in Seine-et-Marne, Le Pays Briard, that “the discussions have taken place, and the plans are ready” for the reintegration of non-vaccinated workers. He told the French newspaper that he would sign the decree “at the beginning of next week”, with implementation to be followed in mid-May.

The suspension of healthcare workers who were not vaccinated against Covid-19 has been in effect since autumn 2021. However, in recent weeks, French health authorities, like the Haute Autorité de santé (HAS), had begun recommending that the vaccine obligation be lifted. 

READ MORE: France launches next Covid vaccine booster campaign

On March 30th, the HAS reviewed its previous recommendations and shifted course, advising that vaccination against Covid-19 instead be “strongly recommended” rather than required.

The body also specified that “lifting a vaccination obligation for professionals does not call into question the benefits of being vaccinated”.

The new ruling will impact several thousand healthcare workers who refused to comply with Covid-19 vaccination requirements in 2021. This led to about 4,000 healthcare professionals being suspended, representing about 0.3 percent of the total hospital staff in the country. 

The compulsory vaccination of healthcare workers will be the last of the Covid-related rules to be relaxed or scrapped after requirements for a vaccine pass or health pass and compulsory mask rules were dropped in 2022. 

Nevertheless, vaccine recommendations remain, particularly for those in high-risk groups. In April, the French health ministry said that new Covid vaccine boosters would be available to vulnerable people, with the vaccine campaign primarily aimed at residents in EHPAD care homes.