The French government is facing criticism from scientists and the opposition alike over the slow progress of its drive to vaccinate people against Covid-19, a problem compounded by the high levels of public scepticism about the campaign.
France on Sunday joined several other EU countries in launching vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, focusing its initial efforts on elderly residents of care homes.
But in the first three days of the campaign less than 100 people were given the jab, -- compared to 42,000 so far in Germany -- raising questions over the government's cautious approach to vaccinating a largely sceptical population.
France's strategy "is not suited to a situation that is so dangerous," Axel Kahn, a prominent geneticist who leads the National League against Cancer, told Europe 1 radio Wednesday.
Kahn said the government should seek to persuade people who are hesitating to be inoculated with "transparency and enthusiasm".
"We need to protect the French people and those who are vulnerable."
He also called for health workers to be moved to the top of the queue for the jab, over the elderly.
Britain, which began vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks ahead of the EU, has already vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people, while over a million have received a jab in the United States.
Philippe Juvin, emergency services chief at Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris, said that there appeared to be no national "vaccine strategy" in France.
"As an individual, I would like to be vaccinated, to set an example, and show people that we don't die from the vaccine, we die from Covid. And when we don't die, we get severe forms which are very disabling," he told CNews TV channel.
Bruno Retailleau, who leads the right-wing opposition The Republicans in the Senate upper house, noted on Twitter that Germany had already vaccinated tens of thousands of people after starting at the weekend.
"A new failure would be terrible," he said, urging the government to publish a calendar for vaccinations in care homes by area.
In a new boost to the UK's vaccination campaign, Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve AstraZeneca and Oxford University's low-cost Covid vaccine.
- 'Takes time' -
A poll on vaccine consent conducted by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum showed the hurdles faced by the government to achieve mass immunity.
It showed that just 40 percent of the French want to receive the vaccine.
This puts France well behind other developed nations like Britain on 77 percent and the United States on 69 per cent.
Some 200 French local mayors wrote an open letter published in the Le Figaro daily saying they would be prepared to be vaccinated themselves as an example to citizens who may be uncertain.
"The French have confidence in their mayor," they wrote.
Speaking on France 2 television late Tuesday, Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the more measured pace in France, saying that officials were taking time to win people over to the idea of being vaccinated.
"It takes a little more time to get going," he said, adding he expected to catch up on the rest of the world by the end of January.
Veran said given the scepticism in France the extra time was needed "for explanation, teaching and obtaining consent of people before they are vaccinated."
Rebuffing criticism on social media, a health ministry official said: "We have not set out for a 100-metre sprint but a marathon."
In tweets on Sunday welcoming the vaccine rollout, President Emmanuel Macron had alluded to the widespread vaccine scepticism in France.
He said "reason and science must guide us" in the homeland of Louis Pasteur, the 19th century scientist who discovered the principles of vaccination.
"The vaccine is not obligatory. Have confidence in our scientists and doctors," said Macron.