France started distributing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday as epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet warned the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 — first identified in the UK – could be dominant in the country by March.
In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche published Sunday, Fontanet, who is also a member of the Scientific Council advising the French government on the pandemic, said: “Between 7-8 January, [the B.1.1.7 Variant] accounted for 3.3% of new contaminations; on January 27, it was 14% according to preliminary results from the second flash study.”
“This progression confirms it is 50 to 60% more transmissible than the 2020 virus. If we continue on this trajectory, with a R number of 1.5 for the English variant, we’ll reach 30-35% by mid-February and the number of hospital admissions will be around 2,000 a day. This variant will become dominant around March 1st,” he added.
The warning comes after an announcement by the French Ministry of Health on Saturday that the first shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been delivered to healthcare professionals. In a statement, the Ministry said the first doses will be given to healthcare staff under the age of 65.
The first shipment concerns 273,600 doses, the statement read. A second shipment of 304,800 doses will take place “next week.”
The statement also said the country had administered two million vaccines so far. According to the latest update from the country's health agency Santé Publique France, 1,843,763 people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by Friday.
France has so far authorized the AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use against Covid-19.