As the country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate kicks off on Wednesday, France could suspend up to 300,000 health-care workers for failing to be vaccinated.
All medical, home care, and emergency workers in France must be vaccinated against COVID-19, with the deadline for receiving at least one shot being Wednesday. Unvaccinated workers may be suspended from work or have their pay suspended, but firing them is prohibited by a high court.
According to government officials, more than 90% of France’s health-care workers are vaccinated, leaving approximately 300,000 unvaccinated. Vaccine mandates for medical personnel are also supported by a majority of people, according to polls.
“It’s aimed at one thing: protecting hospitals, health care workers, and our vulnerable populations,” said government spokesman Gabriel Attal. “Nobody is being stigmatized. We are forcing everyone to accept responsibility.”
The mandate was approved by France’s parliament over the summer in order to protect patients and the general public from new COVID-19 outbreaks. More than 113,000 people have died from the virus in France, and health officials say the majority of those hospitalized during the most recent outbreak were not vaccinated.
While 83 percent of French adults are fully vaccinated, a small but vocal minority of people, including some health care workers, are opposed to coronavirus vaccines. Many people cite incorrect information about vaccines that is circulating online, are concerned about their long-term effects, or want more time to make a decision. Others are upset with President Emmanuel Macron’s administration and the mandate, rather than with the vaccines themselves.
Because some hospitals are already understaffed after a year and a half of fighting the pandemic and catching up on other treatments, opponents of the vaccine requirement fear that staff shortages will be disastrous.
“We are raising the alarm…if you insist on implementing this measure, your beds will be closed, reducing the chances (of survival) for a number of patients,” said Christophe Prudhomme, an emergency room doctor and member of the CGT union, at a protest outside the Health Ministry on Tuesday.
If a health care worker has only received one dose thus far, they must take a virus test every three days until they have completed the second. The legal deadline for completing both vaccines is October 15.
Firms and employers who fail to verify their employees’ vaccination status face a 135 euro ($160) fine, which can be increased to 3,750 euros ($4,430) for repeated failure.
“I’m not a revolutionary; I’m just scared, and there are thousands of us in this situation. I want them to listen to us and talk with us at a table “Rachid Ouchem, a medical-psychological assistant at a hospital in Plaisir, west of Paris, refuses to be vaccinated and faces dismissal. “We can’t decide on our own, and we have reservations,” he told reporters. “We had politicians who said one thing and then the opposite.”
Scientists point out that the vaccines used in France were extensively tested and the results were made public. So far, 5.7 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, providing an unusually broad picture of vaccines’ impact on people’s health.
The vaccine mandate, as well as France’s “health pass” system, which is required for restaurants and other public places, have sparked two months of weekly protests by far-right activists and other groups. They also prompted an increase in vaccinations throughout the summer, though the pace has slowed this month.
While French Polynesia is suffering the country’s worst outbreak so far, France’s South Pacific territory of New Caledonia has ordered obligatory vaccinations for the whole population to try to avoid a similar fate.