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UPDATE 1-France uses only quarter of Astrazeneca vaccine doses-ministry

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Matthias Blamont
·2 min read
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* Issues with AstraZeneca appetite

* Moderna take-up expected to rise (Adds details, quotes)

By Matthias Blamont

PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) - France has used only a quarter of its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses, a health ministry official indicated on Tuesday, saying its utilisation rate stood at 24% as of Feb. 28, well below a target set at 80-85%.

This compares with 82% for vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and 37% for those made by Moderna.

"It is true that we are facing issues with AstraZeneca vaccines," the official said without elaborating.

Health authorities in some European countries - including France and Germany - are facing resistance to the AZ's shot after side-effects including fever and muscle pain led some front-line workers to call in sick, putting extra strain on already-stretched health services.

"Now, there has been recent positive news around the AstraZeneca vaccine and we are confident it will find its place," the official added.

Results published last week of a study conducted in Scotland covering 5.4 million people showed both the Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots were highly effective in preventing severe infections.

Another study conducted by Public Health England reached similar conclusions.

On Monday, French health minister Olivier Veran said France would allow people under 75 with existing health problems to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, departing from an earlier stance that the jab should be for the under-65s only.

Many opponents to the French government have criticized authorities in recent weeks for being both slow and inefficient in rolling out vaccination.

As of Saturday, 4.55 million people had received at least one shot of an AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. The number stood at 6.17 million in Germany and up to 20.9 million in Britain.

Asked about the use of Moderna doses, the official said numbers expected to rise quickly.

"We have just received a significant delivery and therefore doses are not yet dispatched across the country, this is a purely optics effect," the official said.

"In any case, we are not embracing a strategy of building up inventory, quite to the contrary. On Pfizer, we are where we want to be."

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Louise Heavens, William Maclean)