France could start COVID-19 vaccinations as early as the “beginning of the year 2021” if a vaccine is deemed “effective and safe,” the country’s health minister told local media on Tuesday.

However, the right authorizations would need to be in place for a vaccine to be used on the population, Olivier Veran said in an interview with BFMTV-RMC radio.

His comments come after recent announcements by American biotechnology firm Moderna and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, who have found their COVID-19 vaccines to be 94.5% and 90% effective in trials, respectively.

“The health burden is extremely high in our country. There are more patients in the hospital for COVID-19 than in the first wave,” Veran said.

“There is a little less resuscitation because we have transformed the care, transformed the hospital operations.”

Over the past week, 16,784 people have been hospitalized in France, with 2,643 admitted to intensive care.

Since March, at least 45,054 people have died and over 1.99 million (1,991,233) have been infected in the country.

Speaking on the same program, Professor Elisabeth Bouvet, head of France’s Technical Committee on Vaccinations, clarified the finer points of administering any potential vaccine.

“With the first phase of vaccination, we are not in a strategy that aims to stop the epidemic, but in a strategy that aims to protect vulnerable people and health professionals,” she said.

“If we want to intervene in the epidemic, it will be during a second or third phase of vaccination with larger doses.”

Bouvet explained that different vaccines will work in different ways on various segments of the population, such as the elderly or the young.

It is those elderly, along with other at-risk populations and healthcare professionals, who will be the first target of any vaccine received in the country, she said.

“On a case-by-case basis, as the vaccines have been approved for marketing in France, the Technical Committee on Vaccinations will issue recommendations, making it possible to target the indications for each of these vaccines in the current situation,” said Bouvet.

According to Veran, France will receive 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, of which the European Commission has already reserved 300 million doses.

The commission is also currently negotiating with Moderna for an as-yet-undetermined number of doses, according to Clement Beaune, France’s secretary of state for Europe, and reporting by BFMTV.

As always, Veran called for caution, stressing the need for people to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines, limit parties and gatherings, and wear masks.

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