France’s health minister on Monday took the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, saying it provides protection against “99% of the virus strains” circulating in the country.

Olivier Veran became the country’s first high-ranking government official to be inoculated. He received the dose in front of the media at the Melun hospital center in the capital Paris.

Veran, who is also a neurologist, said he recommends the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding the South African variant against which the vaccine is found to be less effective has “very little presence in France.”

South Africa has temporarily suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine after a new study involving human trials of 2,000 subjects found it offered “minimal protection” against the infections by the new strain discovered in the country. Instead it has decided to offer Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines in the coming weeks.

Data suggests the South African variant, also known as 501Y.V2, is deadlier than the UK variant, and enables the virus to bypass immunity built up by the vaccines and makes it more transmissible.

France is heavily depending on the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate frontline health workers, staff working in hospitals, elderly homes, and firefighters under the age of 65 years. The country plans to vaccinate 1.7 million people in the coming weeks.

Veran, 50, said, as a frontline health worker himself, he decided to take the vaccine at the hospital’s invitation. He will return for the second dose in nine to 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, authorities in the Val-d’Oise department near Paris shut down a local college following discovery of several positive virus cases on Monday.

Marie-Jose Beaulande, the mayor of the Eaubonne, told BFMTV at least 2 cases of South African variant were detected, resulting in the closing of the educational institution.

An online survey conducted late last month by Harris Interactive/Euros Agency poll, published in Politico, revealed that 52% of French citizens trusted the EU more than their government in handling coronavirus vaccination.​​​

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