France’s health minister said Monday the government has accelerated its COVID-19 vaccination campaign after the effort came under growing criticism for its slow start.
Speaking to reporters as he toured a Paris hospital, Health Minister Olivier Veran said several thousand medical staff in hospitals across the country had received shots of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. drug maker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech as of Monday.
The French government came under fire for the slow pace of its vaccination program, delivering just 516 inoculations during the first week, focusing primarily on nursing home residents. By comparison, Germany inoculated more than 200,000 during the same time period.
Veran said the initial rollout was slowed by bureaucracy and precaution in one of the most vaccine-skeptical countries in the world. He said by Wednesday about 100 vaccination centers will be available to inoculate health workers around the country.
He added that elderly people living in care homes and health workers remain the priority for vaccinations, but others will "soon" be vaccinated.
France's slow vaccination rollout prompted President Emmanuel Macron to call a meeting Monday with Veran, Prime Minister Jean Castex and other officials to speed up deployment of the vaccine.
Macron wanted to "put pressure on the system," an Elysee official said.
The coronavirus has killed more than 65,000 people in France, the seventh-highest national toll globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. Even so, a survey over the weekend showed six in every 10 French citizens intend to refuse vaccination.