Want a COVID vaccine? Go to the Tour de France

Free vaccines of your choice – without an appointment – are available at the start of each stage of the Tour.

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The Tour de France promotional village is a bit of a weird place. Set up in the host town at the start of each stage, it’s an altar to the commercial juggernaut that is the world’s biggest bike race. There’s terrible coffee, merch giveaways, blasting PA systems announcing riders signing on, and minor celebrities wandering about. 

This year, however, visitors to the Tour de France can leave with something of more enduring usefulness than a congealing pouch of Cochonou sausages.

In a public health intervention run by Sapeurs-Pompiers de France – France’s firefighters – you can pick up your choice of COVID vaccine, free of charge, and without an appointment. 

A vaccibus in the wild.

The firefighters are the ones doing the grunt work, although the program is run in partnership with the French Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health and Solidarity, and the General Directorate of Civil Security and Crisis Management.

The ‘Vaccibus’, which is located at every Tour de France start along the Tour route this year, is less a bus and more a big red trailer with a door at each end. Inside is a doctor and two nurses, offering first or second doses of COVID vaccines to Tour de France spectators and members of the race infrastructure. Among the vaccines offered are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.  

The firefighters are also a part of the Tour de France’s promotional caravan, driving the route of the race ahead of the peloton and idly tossing keyrings out of the windows of a fleet of red Citroëns. 

From past bitter experience at the Tour de France, I regretfully inform you that keyrings are among the least desirable items of caravan tat.

The Vaccibus intervention is an attempt by the French government to get ahead of a fast-growing Delta outbreak which risks sending the country into a fourth wave. Some 62.5% of cases in France currently are of the more contagious Delta variant, with French president Emmanuel Macron warning that “if we do not act today, the number of cases will continue to increase very strongly and will inevitably lead to increased hospitalizations from August.”

Macron, meanwhile, made a high-profile visit to the Tour de France yesterday. At the stage finish he offered Julian Alaphilippe a hearty handshake while the French world champion visibly strained to hear what his president was saying. 

Macron then had a run-in with the Vaccibus, conducting a photo call in front of it at the misty, dead-end summit of Luz Ardiden. In the process, he inadvertently blocked thousands of spectators from being able to leave.

All of which feels like a satisfying analogy for the countries in the world who are lagging behind in their own vaccination rates: watching on as politicians have their media moments, and not actually being able to go anywhere. 

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