France will extend the interval between the two doses of mRNA coronavirus vaccine by two more weeks to quickly inoculate more people amid surging infections and saturated hospitals, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Sunday.
"As of April 14, for all first injections, we will be offering a vaccine booster at 42 days instead of the current 28. This will allow us to vaccinate faster without reducing protection," Veran told the weekly newspaper Journal de Dimanche.
"Prolonging the gap between shots of mRNA anti-COVID vaccines should help us to save 1.8 million injections in the second half of May," he said.
Starting from Monday, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which uses traditional virus-based technology, would be proposed to all over-55s without comorbidity; and shots of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, both mRNA vaccines, would be available to all people older than 60 from April 16, according to the minister.
In a further move to ramp up vaccination rollout, France, on Monday, would receive 200,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a week earlier than the schedule, Veran added.
To date, 10.7 million people in France received their first shot of the vaccine, or 20.6 percent of the adult population and 3.7 million have received two doses.
The French government aims to administer 20 million jabs by mid-May and to inoculate a total of 30 million by mid-June.
A week after France entered its third lockdown, the number of new COVID-19 cases "remains very high," Veran said. "We can expect that after a period of stabilisation comes the fall. But for that, we must keep going."
On Sunday, the cumulative number of coronavirus infections in France surged by 34,895 to reach 5,058,680, and 176 people died, bringing the toll to 98,750, data from health authorities showed.
Hospitalized people with COVID-19 rose by 433 to 30,671, including 5,838 in intensive care, outpacing the country's initial capacity of 5,100 resuscitation beds.