Despite France’s record of pioneering work on vaccines, surveys show that it has become one of the most skeptical countries in the world after the emergence of a powerful “anti-vax” movement that has pushed conspiracy theories.
At the end of 2020, only 40% of French people planned to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, while a new poll on Friday showed that this figure had risen to 56% – still well below the average for other developed countries.
Pierre Verger, a researcher who studies attitudes towards vaccination among French general practitioners, released his latest data on Friday revealing a lower but significant level of hesitation among general practitioners.
About half (47%) of the 1,200 doctors surveyed said they would “definitely” get a shot from Covid-19, according to the study supported by public health research organization DREES.
The rest expressed doubts to a greater or lesser extent: 29 percent said they would be ‘probably’ vaccinated, while one in 10 (11 percent) would be ‘probably not’ or ‘definitely not’. . Another 14 percent did not respond, according to research from October and November.
“We are a long way from having mass commitment and acceptance,” Verger told AFP, saying the results confirmed those of a previous study in 2014.
“If the level of hesitation of doctors does not decrease, it will be a brake on the current vaccination campaign,” he added.
This is a concern for the French government trying to speed up after a slow start – but it has implications for all countries with significant public opposition to the new Covid-19 vaccines.
Verger said research in Belgium and French-speaking Canada showed broadly similar results among doctors in France, while only 50% of German nurses said they would receive a vaccine in a survey conducted in December by the companies. medical DGIIN and DIVI.
The French government sees general practitioners playing a vital role in the vaccination campaign for its population of over 65 million because of their ability to avoid widespread disinformation.
Some of this has been sown by other medical professionals.
The directors of “Hold-up”, a French film largely debunked on the coronavirus pandemic, presented Christian Perronne, head of the infectious diseases department at a hospital in northern France, who has since been dismissed from his post.
By hinting that the pandemic was an emergency fabricated for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies, Perronne has become a bestselling author and a leading figure in anti-vax circles, alongside oncologist Henri Joyeux from the southern city of Montpellier.
Antoine Bristielle, a researcher who recently wrote a report on vaccine skepticism for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a think tank, said doctors are allowed to challenge these views in a way that politicians and national scientific institutions are not.
“In France, people trust their general practitioners a lot to get information on vaccines,” he told AFP. “If your GP tells you ‘go get vaccinated’, that’s a powerful message. On the other hand, if he hesitates himself, it can increase skepticism. ”
Overall, the survey released by DREES on Friday showed that half of physicians would recommend new jabs ‘definitely’ and 29 percent ‘probably’, while about one in five (21 percent) were either opposed, or did not give an answer.
Faced with strong criticism of the low number of people innoculated so far – around 45,000 since the end of December – the government is now moving towards a strategy of opening hundreds of mass vaccination centers nationwide.
Verger and Bristielle say they think doctors will become more confident if the government continues to be transparent with studies and data, a view endorsed by Paris-based infectious disease specialist Solen Kerneis.
She said she felt “moved” and elated this week after giving her first stroke to a fellow nurse at the Bichat public hospital in Paris.
But she understands why some colleagues hesitate.
“The main question asked by a vaccine that has been developed so quickly is” is it safe? “She told AFP. “As a scientist myself, I have asked myself questions. I read scientific reports which reassured me. Our job is to explain, while being transparent. ”