France opens Covid jabs to over-12s in herd immunity drive

France on Tuesday expanded its Covid-19 inoculation drive to children aged 12 and over in a bid to achieve herd immunity and slow the spread of variants, including the Delta strain behind a surge of cases in the United Kingdom.

File photo: AFP

The jabs are not compulsory for children and have no bearing on whether they can attend school or go on holiday in France.

But as demand for Covid vaccines slows among French adults the government is hoping that enough children will be willing to be immunised -- and that their parents will also approve -- to achieve the 80-percent population coverage that experts believe is needed to halt the spread of the virus.

France is also warily eyeing the spread of the Delta variant that has caused a spike in infections in the UK, despite more than 55 percent of adults there having had two vaccine jabs.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England by a month over the sharp rise in cases.

In France, the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, represents two to four percent of new daily Covid infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Tuesday.

"That's maybe not a lot, but England was in the same situation until a few weeks ago," he warned during a visit Tuesday to a vaccination centre in Paris.

In France, a little over 30 million people, 58 percent of adults, have received at least one vaccine dose, but only 27.4 percent have received the two injections needed for maximum protection.

After a slow start to the campaign in December, marked by a high degree of vaccine hesitancy, demand for first vaccine shots surged in April and May but has since begun to taper off.

The Institut Pasteur estimates that 80 percent of the entire population would need to be vaccinated in order for France to achieve herd immunity.

- Strong demand -

The Doctolib website, a privately run company that coordinates France's online vaccination appointments, reported brisk demand for the vaccine among under-18s.

"It's a very good surprise, take-up is higher than expected," Doctolib chief Stanislas Niox-Chateau said, noting that vaccination appointments had been made for 62,000 under-18s since Monday, when the site began taking bookings for children.

That accounted for a quarter of all the day's bookings.

In the southern city of Marseille, several teens were standing in line when the testing centre at the Velodrome stadium opened at 9:00 am.

Lea Levy, 14, skipped school to be one of the first minors to get a shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

Levy, who was accompanied by her mother, said she wanted to "protect fragile family members and be able to go everywhere this summer."

Salvatore Tamborrano, 17, who was also waiting in line, said he wanted to get vaccinated to make it easier for him to spend holidays with his family in Italy.

The rollout of the vaccine to minors went ahead despite France's national ethics committee expressing reservations about the decision.

"Is it ethical to make minors responsible, in terms of collective benefit, for the refusal of a part of the adult population to get vaccinated?" the committee asked in a note last week.