France struggles with public mistrust of COVID-19 vaccine

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When 66-year-old cardiologist Jean-Jacques Monsuez slipped an arm out of his blue and white checkered shirt and offered it to a nurse holding a syringe filled with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, he was doing what many around the world predict to do so as soon as they have the opportunity.
But not in France.

It is perhaps the country of Louis Pasteur, the scientist renowned for having discovered the principles of vaccination. But it is also one of the most reluctant countries in the world to get vaccinated against COVID-19, leading to the lowest use to date of any developed country to start vaccinating its citizens.

In the first six days after the vaccine rolled out on December 27 across Europe as part of a coordinated EU effort, only 516 people received vaccines in France – such a low number out of one. population of 67 million that it is statistically indistinguishable from zero. In contrast, Germany vaccinated more than 200,000 of its inhabitants in the first week and Italy more than 100,000.

For Monsuez, the decision to have an injection was obvious, both for his own safety and that of his family and patients.

“#There is a duty. You see one sick person after another, ”he said, adding,“ It didn’t hurt. I felt the same before and after.

But many of his compatriots seem to disagree. In a survey carried out last month by Ipsos Global Advisor, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, only 40% of French people said they intended to be vaccinated. This places France in last position out of the 15 countries studied, unlike countries like Great Britain and the United States, where 77% and 69% of those questioned, respectively, wish to be vaccinated.

Gallic hesitation stems from various factors. Many here cite concerns about potential side effects and how quickly vaccines have been developed. Mistrust of the government has grown following missteps in its handling of the pandemic and memories of previous health and vaccination scandals in France.

A tedious consent process has bogged down the vaccination campaign in some cases. And prominent health professionals have complained about the lack of a clear official strategy for deploying vaccines and convincing people of their value and effectiveness.

Over the weekend, President Emmanuel Macron – who has survived his own fight against COVID-19 – vowed the pace of vaccination would accelerate “quickly and powerfully”, and authorities added workers from health over 50 on the list of people eligible for the vaccine.

Anne Muraro, artistic advisor, is in no rush to join the queue. “#We don’t know the side effects,” said Muraro, 50. “It is too fast. There is not enough hindsight. ”

Muraro cited the new messenger RNA technology in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a cause of the discomfort. The same technology is also used in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use in Europe. Many in France fear that the vaccine has been rushed to the market in part for the financial benefit of large pharmaceutical companies.

While such qualms may be understandable given the relatively short time the vaccine has been in circulation, they do not reflect the medical community’s understanding of vaccine development and approval, said Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist at retirement in Paris. And the severity of the public health emergency that France is facing requires people to mobilize for COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

The country is one of the hardest hit in Europe, with 2.7 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 65,164 deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University. After two full lockdowns, residents are currently under curfew and bars, restaurants and cultural attractions remain closed. Officials have vowed to ease those restrictions once the number of new cases drops below 5,000 a day, a target that still seems far away.

“#This virus kills 400 people a day in France,” Hill said. “#Imagine a big plane falling from the sky every day.”

In a television interview this weekend, French Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the slow pace of vaccinations and said France would catch up with its European neighbors by the end of the month.

Veran’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has inspired some mistrust among his compatriots. From the start, he said the masks were “unnecessary” to the general public. Wearing a mask has since become mandatory, and many in France believe his first advice against it stemmed from a supply shortage the government did not want to exacerbate rather than a sound health policy.

Regarding vaccinations, a spokesperson for the health service said it would be “not helpful” to launch a public information campaign now as most in France will only be eligible for a vaccine. spring, after that priority is given to residents of nursing homes. and frontline health workers.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran, left, chats with a woman as he arrives to attend the vaccination of health workers at Hotel Dieu hospital in Paris on Monday.
(Martin Bureau / AFP / Getty Images)

The country’s recent history with the new vaccines has sparked some public skepticism. At the end of 2009, the French government ordered far too many doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine, for which demand was low, leading to accusations of financial mismanagement.

More relevantly, it was feared that the hepatitis B vaccine administered in France in the 1990s was linked to an increase in multiple sclerosis. Several studies have examined the link, with varying conclusions. In 2002, the #World Health Organization claimed that, “despite a slightly high odds ratio seen in the initial studies, none showed a statistically significantly elevated risk.” Many here are not convinced.

# Edvart Vignot’s sister developed MS after receiving the hepatitis B vaccine, which is part of why he prefers to wait to see the side effects the COVID-19 vaccine might have before letting someone stick a needle in his arm. Vignot, who is Muraro’s partner, is also keen to hear what scientists unrelated to governments or pharmaceutical companies have to say.

“#We need other people,” he said, “independent experts”.

The key is also to convince family doctors and pharmacists, on which the French ask a lot of advice. Eliette Gauthier, who lives in a suburb of Bordeaux, said she still did not know if she was going to get the vaccine, largely because her doctor had told her he did not yet have enough information to advise her one way or another.

“#We don’t have enough information on the makeup” of the plans, said the 71-year-old retired schoolteacher. “#I will see what my doctor advises.”

France’s vaccination campaign was further bogged down by a complex consent process that required pre-vaccine consultations with patients to ensure their consent. With the campaign currently targeting elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom suffer from cognitive problems, the process has been particularly laborious.

Meanwhile, Muraro and Vignot are taking other preventative measures, such as observing social distancing, wearing masks and taking vitamin D, which some experts say helps prevent infection. The couple have long since given up on shaking hands or greeting friends with kisses on the cheek, as was customary in France until the pandemic broke out.

And both have had the coronavirus before, leading them to believe that they probably have some level of immunity at the moment.

Muraro said she would revisit taking the vaccine in the fall, when she is likely to be eligible and when the risk of transmission is likely to increase as colder weather prompts people to move indoors.

Frédéric Adnet, head of emergency medicine at Avicenne hospital in the northern suburbs of Paris, believes that most people in France are like Muraro and Vignot: not categorically refusing to be vaccinated but adopting a wait-and-see approach.

“#When they see it’s effective and safe opinions will change,” Adnet said, adding that the high vaccination rates in the US and UK should help build public confidence here. “I think the French are reasonable, and in two months you will see that we are all screaming that there is not enough vaccine. ”

El-Faizy is a special envoy.



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