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PARIS : (Reuters) - France will ensure free COVID-19 vaccinations for all who are in its social security system and has earmarked 1.5 billion euros of next year's social security budget to cover the cost, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

Castex said the vaccination campaign would begin in a matter of weeks, pending regulatory approval by the European Medicines Agency. The inoculation programme would be staggered over three categories of people, he said, commencing with the most vulnerable in nursing homes.

"The vaccination will be free for all," Castex told a press conference.

France has ordered some 200 million doses from different pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines, Castex said, enough to inoculate 100 million people - more than France's population.

The COVID-19 vaccination will be voluntary in France. Castex assured citizens the approved vaccines would be safe.

"The remarkable mobilisation worldwide has allowed the rapid development of vaccines. However, this timeframe in no way means that we have compromised safety," the prime minister said.

According to an Ipsos poll for the World Economic Forum, only 59% of French respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available, compared with 67% in the United States and 85% in Britain.

Even after the trials, several months would be needed to know if a vaccine was successful in halting transmission

Castex said the spread of the virus was continuing to slow in France and would soon go below the threshold of 10,000 new infections per day. France recorded more than 80,000 new cases at the peak of the second wave in November.

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