A stadium is set up as a vaccination drive site in France.

French citizens can choose a preferred jab. Some say ‘vaccine shopping’ leads to waste.

There are still a lot of misunderstandings about COVID-19 vaccines in France, said Brigitte Abel, who manages a call center for vaccine appointments.

The World

People wait after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the COVID-19 in a vaccination center of Lyon, central France, April 8, 2021. 

Laurent Cipriani/AP

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy levels were high for a while in France, but recently, people have warmed up to the idea. 

A recent poll shows that 70% of the French population is now open to getting a COVID-19 vaccine — compared to only 42% in December. 

Related: In Zimbabwe, vaccine hesitancy among front-line workers stalls rollout 

To speed vaccinations up, dozens of stadiums have been converted into “vaccinodromes,” including the Stade de France in northern Paris. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are both on offer. Both use the same messenger RNA technology. Both have an efficacy rate of about 94% to 95%

But one is being favored over the other. 

Related: Kenya expands COVID-19 vaccine rollout amid global shortages 

“Everyone wants Pfizer. ... Once we explain that there’s nothing to worry about with Moderna, and that it’s the same technology as Pfizer/BioTech, people usually have no problem accepting either one."

Brigitte Abel, vaccine appointments call-center manager, France

“Everyone wants Pfizer,” said Brigitte Abel, who manages the call center where people can make vaccine appointments. In France, people have the right to choose which vaccine they want based on what’s available.

“Once we explain that there’s nothing to worry about with Moderna, and that it’s the same technology as Pfizer-BioNTech, people usually have no problem accepting either one,” Abel said. 

But she admits there are still a lot of misunderstandings about COVID-19 vaccines in France, and this sort of “vaccine shopping” could lead to vaccine waste. 

Related: Serbia lets people choose their COVID-19 vaccine. Some call it a 'political ballot' 

Some believe the bias comes from the fact that in French, Moderna almost rhymes with AstraZeneca, the Oxford-developed vaccine that has been linked to rare cases of blood clots (affecting less than .001% of the population) — mostly in women under 55 years old. 

As an extra precaution, AstraZeneca is now only being recommended in France to people aged 55 and over. 

The stadium expects to give out 10,000 vaccine doses a week — a crucial number to help France reach its goal of vaccinating 30 million people by mid-June. 

In a video published last week, France’s vaccine czar Alain Fischer still urged those over 55 to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, stating the benefits far outweigh the risks. 

Related: France launches citizens' collective to tackle vaccine skepticism

Unused stocks of AstraZeneca, however, are piling up. A recent poll showed more than 70% of the French population doesn’t want to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Latifa Ahmad is one of them. The 56-year-old pharmacy technician said she declined an offer to get the AstraZeneca vaccine several months ago. 

Recently, in the basement of the Stade de France, she got her first dose of the Moderna shot. 

“I’m totally confident in Moderna,” Ahmad said.

At the other end of the room, Jocelyne Kamara got a jab of the Pfizer vaccine. But the 67-year-old said she would have been equally content with an AstraZeneca shot. 

“It feels like there’s a hierarchy...some people who get AstraZeneca or Moderna feel like they have a handicap because they didn’t get Pfizer."

Jocelyn Kamara, 67, vaccine recipient

“It feels like there’s a hierarchy ... some people who get AstraZeneca or Moderna feel like they have a handicap because they didn’t get Pfizer,” Kamara said.

The most important thing, Kamara said, is that the population is protected from COVID-19. 

“I hate getting shots, but I’m ready for this [pandemic] to be over and I’m ready to get back to normal life,” she said. “I just hope the rest of the population is feeling the same way.”

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