Sunday, May 16

In France, there is no escape for skeptics of the Covid vaccine. What would Pasteur think? | France


There is a joke circulating in France: how do you get a Frenchman to receive the Covid vaccine? Tell him he can’t have it.

My dentist, who is French, recounted this and found it very funny. My doctor, who is not French, was not so amused. Like other GPs, he has tried, and has not always been successful, to persuade his patients to undergo the AstraZeneca injection. Yes, you read that right, trying to persuade.

While the British have been giving their right and left arms for a Covid-19 vaccine, here in still skeptical France, people are actually rejecting it. And not just AstraZeneca’s Anglo-Swedish jab, although it hasn’t helped that after receiving such unwarranted bad press, this is the one being delivered to GPs.

Misinformation, mistrust and downright crazy rumors have turned what should have been a fairly routine operation into an organizational nightmare. Doctors like mine, who have been assigned just 10 doses of AstraZeneca a week, all of which must be given over a 48-hour period, are spending valuable time and energy trying to attract just 10 willing patients.

The reasons for French skepticism about vaccines are already well documented: past health scandals have cast doubt; the French distrust their politicians and Big Pharma and are opposed to being told what to do. President Macron is reckless destruction of the AstraZeneca The vaccine based on a misinterpretation of the scientific data did not help.

Still, it is surprising to find such an illogical, even poorly enlightened, thought in the country that produced both Louis Pasteur and René Descartes.

After a year of lockdowns, curfews, closures of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters, gyms and others and the severe restriction of freedoms, not to mention the general collapse of the economy, one could imagine the French running down the street. exit to the pandemic nightmare that vaccines offer.

A protest against the closure of cultural spaces by the French government, in the Place de la Bastille, Paris
A protest against the closure of cultural spaces by the French government, in the Place de la Bastille, Paris, last year. Photograph: Ian Langsdon / EPA

And many of those who refuse are the ones with the most reason to get vaccinated: themselves at high risk or susceptible to transmitting the virus to other vulnerable people. Last week, to widespread amazement, Prime Minister Jean Castex revealed that only 40% of the country’s health workers have been vaccinated. He reminded others that they had a responsibility to “themselves, their families and their loved ones” to remedy this situation. immediately.

There are echoes of the spiteful British debate on Brexit in the responses given by some for refusing to get vaccinated. It’s like walking on eggshells even asking the question, and the answers, deeply, seriously and genuinely, often make no sense to those who believe that having vaccines in general, and Covid in particular, is an individual and collective responsibility.

In a supermarket in a small town in Burgundy, I overheard a woman detailing her and her husband’s health problems, including cancer, a recent brush with death that required a multiple heart bypass and diabetes tests. He was asked if he planned to get vaccinated.

A retiree off the Vacci'Bus
An elderly man outside the Vacci’Bus, which has been turned into a Covid-19 vaccination center traveling through isolated villages near Reims. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

“No, absolutely not. Nobody knows what it contains, ”he said. An unscientific survey of neighbors revealed similar sentiments: “It has developed too quickly”, “It is not safe”, “It causes autism”, “It does not work”, “There is something fishy in all this …”

Back in Paris, a colleague told me that his two elderly in-laws had serious health problems but refused to get vaccinated. Another said he knew a professional couple who “were not against vaccines … but were happy to wait and see how it works in the UK.”

An equally unscientific poll on social media showed that the reasons for skepticism were many, varied and widespread across France. While some French had pestered their doctor to give them the vaccine or had traveled miles to get a dose, others confused science and logic with claims that the vaccine would change their DNA or be as dire to human health as 5G and smart electricity meters.

An American-Parisian told me that “several French people who I consider to be quite intelligent told me that they fear they have not had enough time to fully investigate the safety of all this.”

Another friend reported: “In the rural areas of Auvergne, skepticism is widespread. I’ve heard farmers say, “I don’t want a vaccine that can make me sick. Even a friend who works at Intermarché (supermarket) said that not in a million years … skepticism about vaccines also seems to go hand in hand with the fear of Linky’s electric meter ”.

Conspiracy theories, it seems, may trump France’s legendary reputation for hypochondria, and vaccine skepticism nullifies fears of a virus that has already killed nearly 88,000 people here.

Skepticism aside, deployment of the vaccine in France has been painfully slow. Since January 18, when inoculations began, France has received just under 7.86 million vaccines. The latest figures available show that fewer than 3.39 million people have received one dose and just over 1.83 million two doses. Skepticism does not explain why millions of doses of vaccines remain in refrigerators and why every weekend the number of vaccines administered drops to a relative drip. France’s work-life balance is a wonderful and enviable thing, but as Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly said, it is “a war” against a deadly virus.

After Castex announced that France would accelerate vaccines last week, including on weekends, a colleague joked, “What is the country coming for?” But at the current rate, the VaccineTracker The website estimates that it will take until March 7, 2023 to vaccinate the adult population.

And that’s no joke.


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