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Why is France facing the fifth wave of Covid with 75% of the population vaccinated?

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Reader’s Question: Over 75% of the French population is fully vaccinated, so why are we witnessing a fifth wave of Covid?

France is now facing a fifth epidemic wave of Covid, Minister of Health Olivier Véran said on Tuesday, November 23.

There were an average of 18,520 new cases every day in the country over the past week, an increase of 81% from the previous week. Yesterday 32,591 new cases were reported.

The numbers of hospital and intensive care unit admissions, as well as Covid-related deaths, are also on the rise.

Jean-François Delfraissy, the chairman of the Scientific Council which advises the government on Covid issues, said this fifth wave will have a “significant impact” by the end of the year.

And this despite the fact that in France, 90% of people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated. Of the total population, 75.2% of people are fully vaccinated.

Why then is France facing a fifth wave of Covid, with such high vaccination rates?

Most contagious strain of Covid

Professor Michel Cogné, immunologist at the University of Rennes and at the Rennes University Hospital (Rennes University Hospital), explains that this is partly due to the fact that a more contagious variant of Covid is now dominant in France.

“We must keep in mind that we were vaccinated against the original virus, while we are now facing the Delta variant, which is much more contagious,” he told Le Figaro.

Dr Claude-Agnès Reynaud, immunologist and research director at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm), said the Delta variant may also affect vaccine efficacy rates.

“The messenger RNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), which had efficacy rates of over 90% on the original virus, are most likely somewhat less effective on the Delta variant,” she said. .

Vaccine protection decreases over time

In addition to this, it is now well known that in some demographics the effectiveness of vaccines declines over time.

“From about six months after the first two doses, part of the population begins to be less well protected,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, virologist and chair of the French Covid-19 vaccine committee.

“However, protection against severe forms is still very good in those under 65 after six months.”

In France, nearly 11 million people were fully vaccinated more than six months ago, mainly elderly and / or vulnerable people.

France administered just over 5.5 million recalls.

There’s also the fact that some people react badly to the vaccine right off the bat, and there’s a lot of individual variability in terms of immune response, Dr Reynaud said.

“Added to this is the fact that around 10% of French people have not been vaccinated at all. All of this means that the virus still has a large reservoir to circulate.

Read more: Covid: is Macron’s claim of 51 million fully vaccinated correct?

Winter weather

Another element is the weather. As winter approaches, temperatures drop across the country. This can create a better environment for the virus to circulate, with people staying indoors more often and not airing rooms as often.

There are also now far fewer Covid-related measures in place than there were at this time last year, with places like restaurants and cinemas still open – but only for people who have a health pass.

How is this wave compared to last year?

On November 23, 2020, there were 31,500 people hospitalized because of the Covid, against around 8,500 today, reports Le Figaro.

There were also 4,400 in intensive care last year due to Covid, up from 1,450 today.

The situation in other countries

“The severity of this wave depends strictly on the vaccination rate of the countries,” said Dr Reynaud.

“France is doing well, the United Kingdom a little less because of two factors: they are a little less vaccinated (80.3% of over 12 years old) and they mainly used the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is a little less efficient.

“As for Eastern Europe, it’s pretty dramatic,” she said.

In countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia, vaccination rates vary from around 30 to 50% of the population.

The situation would be worse without the vaccines

Prof. Cogné said that if there had been no vaccines, “we would be in the middle of a tsunami”.

“This country would be on the ground,” he said.

His colleague, Professor Jean-Marc Tadié, said the number of intensive care patients is still manageable.

“It is true that our rooms are filling up, but for the moment it remains contained. And the patients we are seeing now are largely unvaccinated, ”he said.

Dr Kieny, chairman of the French Covid-19 vaccine committee, said the number of hospitalizations and deaths was nothing like what it was last year.

“The main objective of vaccines, which is to protect against severe forms of the disease, remains fulfilled,” she said.

Read more: Covid France: Why do people who are more fully vaccinated enter an ICU?

Booster doses

France will extend its booster dose campaign to all people aged 50 and over from the beginning of December. The Minister of Health Olivier Véran is also due to hold a press conference today during which he will address the Covid situation.

Read more: New Covid rules in France: what should Véran announce today?

Dr Reynaud said the need for booster shots was scientific fact.

“It is normal for immunity to decline with a closely spaced two-dose vaccination schedule, as has been done with messenger RNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna).

“The more space the doses apart, the more effective the vaccination. But the choice was made not to leave people unprotected for months and to give the doses only a few weeks apart.

“In fact, the first two injections we received were a primary vaccination. The third dose is ultimately a second dose, ”she said.

Read more: Covid boosters for all, jabs for children: when will France decide?

Read more: French health authority recommends a Covid booster injection for everyone over 40

Living with covid

This raises the question of whether people will need to be vaccinated against Covid every six months, which Dr Kieny hopes will not be the case.

Read more: Covid France: we may need regular vaccines, according to the head of the health council

“The level of immunity achieved after a booster injection is higher than after a primary vaccination. We hope that this immunity will last longer, ”she said.

She said, however, that some people, such as the elderly and vulnerable, may need to be revaccinated regularly, as in the case of the flu shot.

“No one thinks that it is possible to prevent this virus from circulating further,” she said.

“On the other hand, we hope to be able to achieve a situation where the harmfulness of this virus will be very minimal by protecting the most vulnerable by vaccination. “

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