Covid-19 Vaccine

French hospitals slow down staff vaccinations due to AstraZeneca side effects

In France, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered to health workers under the age of 65 since 6 February, 2021.
In France, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered to health workers under the age of 65 since 6 February, 2021. © Reuters/Dado Ruvic
4 min

A few days after the first injections of the British AstraZeneca vaccine in France on 6 February, many health workers reported strong side effects such as flu-like symptoms. Several hospitals in western France have decided to stagger their vaccination campaigns.

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The hospitals in Brest and Morlaix in France's western region of Brittany reported "high proportions of vaccinated people presenting side effects", according to the news website Le Télégramme, leading to between 20 and 25% of the vaccinated staff in Brest to take time off work. 

The Saint-Lô hospital in Normandy on Thursday, suspended the vaccination of its health professionals launched the day before, due to malaise among the vaccinated staff.

"It puts us in difficulty when we have whole teams being vaccinated on the same day and 15% of the team has post-vaccination symptoms," Mélanie Cotigny, the hospital communications officer, told French news agency AFP.

"The laboratory [AstraZeneca] announced 12 to 15% side effects on this vaccination, so we knew it but we didn't anticipate it that way".

14,000 doses of the vaccine were delivered to Brittany last week, 15,600 are due to arrive next week. The vaccine requires two doses.

Recent doubts over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca jab, have arisen in recent weeks, particularly due to lack of data for patients over 55.

Pharmacovigilance declarations

The French National Drug Safety Agency (ANSM), in its situation report, published Thursday, lists "149 pharmacovigilance declarations between the morning of 6 and 10 February mentioning flu syndromes often of high intensity". 

Over this period, about 10,000 people received a dose, the ANSM continued. For the moment in France, this serum is reserved for health professionals under 65 years of age. 

These "flu syndromes, often of high intensity" involve a high fever - with an average temperature of 39 degrees - but also fatigue, aches and pains and headaches. The average age of the health professionals concerned is 34.

Defective batch?

According to the ANSM, "these undesirable side effects are known and described with the vaccines." The Agency also rules out the hypothesis of a defective batch. 

"The batch of AstraZeneca's vaccine in use since 6 February 2021 has been subject to strict pharmaceutical quality control in accordance with the batch release procedure," the report explains. This batch has been used in 21 other European Union (EU) countries. To date, there have been no equivalent declarations in other countries". 

"And yet, not all (adverse) reactions have been reported and have not reached us," warns Professor Mathieu Molimard, a pharmacovigilance specialist and contributor to the ANSM.

To avoid "the potential risk of disrupting the functioning of health care services", the ANSM recommends "staggered vaccination of staff in the same service".

Staggered vaccinations

Laure, an emergency doctor at the Lisieux hospital in Normandy interviewed by French newspaper Libération on Friday explains that she agreed to receive her first injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday 9 February.

But a few hours after the injection, the effects could be felt. "I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible headache, nausea, feeling cold but no fever," she says.

Laure admits she was surprised: "It's the first time I've had so many side effects after an injection, yet I vaccinate myself against the flu every year".

For the moment, at the hospital of Lisieux, the hospital follows the advice of the ANSM, but this policy annoys Laure: "If we stagger, it's only to ensure the smooth running of the hospital and not to protect the health workers, it's strange".

France reported 21,231 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday over the previous 24 hour period, and 199 deaths.

Santé Publique France said 72.4 percent of nursing home residents had been vaccinated as of Friday.

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