When the vaccine was approved for use by European Union regulators, France mandated it would only go to eligible people under 65, because it said data from trials in older age groups was limited.
“Anybody aged 50 or over who is affected by comorbidities can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, including those between 65 and 74,” health minister Olivier Veran told France TV, while people aged 75 and over would continue to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only.
Veran also announced that people who have already tested positive for Covid-19 may receive just a single dose of vaccine. “People already positive for Covid, with a recent PCR test, for example, will no longer need to need two injections of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, one will suffice”, Veran said.
In an unprecedented move on a global scale, France’s High Authority of Health (HAS) recommended in early February a single dose of vaccine for people who have already contracted coronavirus and “developed an immune memory”.
HAS also recommended waiting “beyond three months” after the illness, “and preferably six months”, before injecting this single dose, HuffPost France reported.
In a similar move, Italy will also offer only single doses to the approximately two million people who have recovered from Covid-19 in the country.
Prime minister Mario Draghi is keen to follow the “UK model” of prioritising first doses for everyone in Italy, but no official decision has been taken, a HuffPost Italy editor said.
Several other EU countries including Germany are still restricting the jab to those aged under-65.
The move comes as it was revealed the Oxford jab offers 60% to 73% protection against people over 70 getting symptomatic Covid, while the Pfizer vaccine gives between 57% and 61% protection.
Public Health England said a single shot of either coronavirus vaccine being used in the UK is around 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation among the over-80s.
The rollout of vaccines in many EU countries have been hit by delays and confused messaging about their effectiveness from political leaders.
France, which has a similar population to the UK has administered around 3m first doses of vaccines compared to over 20m in Britain.
It was also announced that France will retain its current measures aimed at curbing the pandemic, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks.
Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants and museums, and Olivier Veran said he hoped France would not have to go beyond those measures to rein in the disease.
France’s Covid death toll rose by 375 to 86,803, the seventh-highest death toll globally. This compares with a rise of 122 on Sunday and a seven-day moving average of 313.
At 3.761 million, France’s tally of Covid cases is the sixth highest on the world.
One jab of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine offers 76% protection against Covid-19 for up to three months, a study released on Monday has shown.
The finding is a boost for Britain’s controversial decision to extend the gap between the first and second doses of the vaccine to 12 weeks.
Oxford University said the findings of the pre-print paper show the jab also had a “substantial effect” on reducing transmission of the disease.