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The Yvelines vaccinodrome, the yellow jersey for the Covid-19 inoculation race in France

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In France, more than 30 high-volume Covid-19 vaccination centers – dubbed, sometimes in derision, “vaccinodromes” – are about to open, promising a boost to the initially slow deployment of inoculation in the country . UKTN visited one of these centers inside the cycle track of the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome, outside of Paris.

“Come on! Again, again, again! C’MON!” a man on a motorbike calls out to the French team’s sprint cyclists as they circle the sloping velodrome track. Its explosions could just as easily be aimed at health workers administering injections below into the oval-shaped pit that surrounds the runway.

Welcome to the gigantic vaccination center in the Yvelines department, in this south-western suburb of the French capital. The vaccinodrome, as this type of installation has become known in France, foreshadows similar structures that the government is preparing to deploy in the fight against Covid-19, intended to help achieve the country’s goal of 10 million firsts. doses injected by mid-April. On Wednesday, the day that UKTN entered the scene, more than 1,600 people received an injection of the Pfizer / BioTech or Moderna vaccines. The figure of one day represents more than three times the number of doses that a standard center in France manages to inject in an average week.

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A dashboard indicates the number of doses administered since the opening of the vaccination center at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome, outside Paris. Between 1,500 and 2,000 doses are injected daily. © Mehdi Chebil

Of those vaccinated that day, most had already scheduled online appointments using Doctolib, a website that offers bookings for doctor’s appointments. Others, like Nicole Lalau, came after receiving a phone call from a local elected official offering a vaccination window.

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Lalau, 74, from a small town near Versailles, says: “I am a big fan of Dr Raoult”, referring to the controversial French professor who has strongly advocated for the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the Covid-19. “And, to begin with, I didn’t really want to get the vaccine. But when my mayor called to offer this meeting, I immediately accepted, ”she says. “Mainly because I can’t wait to be able to leave freely.”

Nicole Lalau, 74, gets vaccinated at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines cycling center on March 31, 2021. She is very satisfied with the speed of the process, she says: 40 minutes between arriving and leaving the center vaccination.
Nicole Lalau, 74, gets vaccinated at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines cycling center on March 31, 2021. She is very satisfied with the speed of the process, she says: 40 minutes between arriving and leaving the center vaccination. © Mehdi Chebil

Raymond Vericel, a 74-year-old former stock manager, has had less luck with his own mayor. “I tried several times to get an appointment on the Internet, but every slot was full. The town hall where I live kept sending me back to Doctolib, ”explains the retiree. He had to try again before he finally managed to get an hour of vaccination.

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The two newly vaccinated seniors followed the same procedure. First, an interview in a white stall with a doctor, who checked for whatever reason not to prescribe a vaccine, and then issued a certificate of eligibility for vaccination according to the criteria set by the government. The injection itself is usually administered by a nurse in a blue stall. Finally, the new vaccination is recorded in the French social security database and the follow-up appointment for a second dose is confirmed.

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Vaccination candidates line up at the entrance to the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome on March 31, 2021. Eligibility will continue to expand to new age groups: high-risk unconditional candidates over 60 will be eligible from mid-April.  50 from mid-May.
Vaccination candidates line up at the entrance to the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome on March 31, 2021. Eligibility will continue to expand to new age groups: high-risk unconditional candidates over 60 will be eligible from mid-April. 50 from mid-May. © Mehdi Chebil

The process was organized so that the 15 doctors and 15 nurses on site on Wednesday could complete their tasks as quickly as possible. The administrative staff who keep the vaccinodrome running is for its part from the ten municipalities that make up Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

“Our goal is to strike mass, but also to avoid any social injustice in the selection process. This is why we work a lot with the CCAS (Social and Community Action Centers), which bring us people who are not able to plan their appointments themselves ”, explains Sandrine Hector, responsible for relations. public buildings in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

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To maintain their rhythm of 1,500 to 2,000 doses per day, nurses constantly take turns in the pharmacy area to decant the precious vaccine liquid from its vials into syringes. Their colleagues in charge of injections quickly follow one another to “claim their dose”. It is in this hive of activity that pharmacy assistants strive to get the most out of every vial: up to seven doses from Pfizer vials and up to 12 from Moderna vials.

The pharmacy stand, where nurses prepare syringes.  It is the beating heart of the vaccinodrome, where health workers continuously drop in to collect the doses to be injected.
The pharmacy stand, where nurses prepare syringes. It is the beating heart of the vaccinodrome, where health workers continuously drop in to collect the doses to be injected. © Mehdi Chebil

Vaccine vials are the real ammunition in this healthcare war against Covid-19. They are stored in refrigerators in a room where Tristan Eybert, the manager of this center, carefully keeps the keys. “Usually, we take delivery of the vaccines for the next day. The most important thing for us would be to have provisions as regularly as possible so that we can adjust appointments and logistics in advance, ”says Eybert, who works. for the city.

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However, he believes that a new upsurge to reach the goal of 5,000 injections per day seems possible. “We could start by extending the hours of operation and vaccinating later in the evening, which would be possible with younger populations,” he says. Staff numbers and doses should also follow suit – two areas in which the stars are starting to align.

Empty Pfizer / BioTech vaccine vials accumulate.  They are all numbered to allow precise tracking of stocks.
Empty Pfizer / BioTech vaccine vials accumulate. They are all numbered to allow precise tracking of stocks. Mehdi CHEBIL

Human reinforcements are expected to arrive as the government has announced it is mobilizing firefighters and armed forces personnel for this task alongside large categories of health workers already authorized to perform vaccinations. As for “ammunition”, France should receive two million doses of the Pfizer / BioTech vaccine each week throughout the month of April.

This is a blessing for the staff at the vaccinodrome, who regularly face mistrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “When we tell people we’re going to vaccinate them with Pfizer, we see their faces light up,” says Hector, the city’s public relations manager. “It’s almost like we are releasing a great Chablis instead of a classic white wine!”

Raymond Vericel poses for a photo near the exit after receiving his vaccination. "We meet children in our stairwell whose class has been closed because of Covid-19," said the 74-year-old retiree. "It's reassuring to be vaccinated."
Raymond Vericel poses for a photo near the exit after receiving his vaccination. “We meet children in our stairwell whose classroom was closed because of Covid-19,” says the 74-year-old retiree. “It’s reassuring to be vaccinated.” © Mehdi Chebil

This article was translated from the original, in French.

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