A shot in each arm: France vaccinates against flu and COVID-19

Woman receiving a COVID-19 booster shot
A woman receives a COVID-19 booster shot in a nursing home in Strasbourg, eastern France.
(Jean-Francois Badias / Associated Press)

Worried over a potential winter double whammy, France is forging ahead with a nationwide flu vaccination and COVID-19 booster shot program, offering simultaneous jabs to millions of at-risk people.

The annual flu vaccination campaign kicked off Friday, four days earlier than initially planned, dovetailing with France’s COVID-19 immunization program, which in addition to trying to reach those who remain unvaccinated is also providing booster shots to those in need.

In instructions issued this week, French health authorities urged doctors, nurses, pharmacists and midwives to “systematically promote both vaccinations” to at-risk people eligible for COVID-19 booster shots and flu inoculations. The note said the shots can be given the same day, one in each arm.


It added that the onset of the winter flu season with the pandemic still ongoing “increases the risk of co-infection and the development of serious cases and deaths.”

French health authorities also fear that because there were fewer flu infections in 2020 as a result of social distancing and coronavirus lockdowns, people could be more vulnerable to the influenza virus this winter.

“The flu could be strong this year — I stress ‘could’ — because we had no flu last year and so the population’s immunity is lower,” Health Minister Olivier Véran said on BFM-TV.

Public health officials are recommending everyone get a flu shot now to stave off a potentially bad season.

The flu vaccination campaign was already underway in nursing homes, which got a green light to start giving shots Monday.

Those immediately eligible for flu shots include anyone 65 or older, pregnant women, people of all ages with chronic illnesses or obesity, health professionals, home helpers for at-risk people and families with vulnerable newborns under 6 months old.

France’s COVID-19 booster shot campaign launched in September, targeting many of the same people now prioritized for free flu shots. They include the over-65s, nursing home residents, the chronically sick and recipients of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Close to 50 million people in France — nearly 74% of the population — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 1.2 million others have had a first shot.