“Are we guinea pigs? – French seniors are wary of the COVID vaccine


A medical worker, wearing a protective suit and face mask, administers a nasal swab to a patient at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) screening center in Reze near Nantes, France, December 15, 2020. REUTERS / Stephane Mahe

SARTROUVILLE, France – Yann Reboulleau, boss of the French retirement home, was trying to convince Madeleine Bonnet, 92, of the merits of taking the COVID-19 vaccine, and he was going through a difficult time.

“Are we guinea pigs?” asked Bonnet, who worked as a pharmacist, as she sat across from Reboulleau in the television room of the “Mon Repos” house while the cooks prepared a lunch of bulgur and chicken.

Reboulleau stressed that vaccines go through extensive testing to make sure they are safe. Bonnet replied: “But with what certainty? ”

Scientists say the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines – once the first of them receives regulatory approval for Europe in the coming weeks – will play a huge role in cracking down on a virus that, in France alone, has contributed to more than 58,000 deaths.

But the effectiveness of the vaccine could be compromised, according to scientists, by a general reluctance of the French to have it. More than half of the population say they probably won’t or probably won’t be vaccinated, polls show.

This reluctance is shared at the “Mon Repos” home near Paris, even though residents, aged 87 to 100, are among the most vulnerable groups to fall seriously ill or die from COVID-19.

During the first wave of the virus earlier this year, the house experienced a cluster of infections in which four residents died. Nationally, more than 17,000 of COVID-related deaths were in nursing homes and 93% of all those who died with COVID-19 were 65 or older, according to public health figures.

Laurent Levasseur, president of Bluelinea, a company that helps nursing homes deal with the virus, including “Mon Repos”, said his company had interviewed residents by phone, and those undecided or against the vaccine outweighed supporters.

Sitting next to a Christmas tree, Bonnet said she was wary of the motives of pharmaceutical companies rushing to get their vaccines approved and rolled out in record time.

If their actions were driven by profit, it made her uncomfortable, she said. If the project was to advance medical science, she was supportive and willing to be a part of it.

For now, however, she was undecided on whether to receive the blow when it comes to her. “We’ll see,” she said.

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