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Citizens' group to assist France's Covid-19 response

Collective of 35 representatives intended to 'involve the population' in the rollout of vaccines

4 January 2021
By Connexion journalist

The search for 35 people to create a "citizens' collective" to advise the government on the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine was due to begin on Monday, January 4.

The scheduling of the 'draw' for the group, with health officials under pressure over the slow rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, has drawn consternation, but the collective had been in the planning for some time.

What is this collective?

It is a group of ordinary people drawn by lot to help raise awareness and trust in the Covid-19 vaccine among the sceptical French. It will be made up of 30 people, with five more on standby.

The president of the Scientific Council on Covid-19, Jean-François Delfraissy, has long been a supporter of the collective: "People need to understand why certain decisions are made, so as to restore trust: trust between citizens and decision-makers, and trust between citizens and scientists," he told Le Monde  in November.

It is a "useful tool" added Professor Emmanuel Rusch, who chairs the National Conference of Health, which advises the Ministry of Health, in a December with Franceinfo, though he said it should have been in place "several weeks or even months ago".

Is this new?

No, but the timing could be better. In November, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of the group to “guarantee health security ... a scientific committee will be responsible for monitoring vaccinations, (and) a collective of citizens will also be in place to involve the population more broadly”.

The group - chosen according to a number of criteria to ensure a representative cross-section of the country - will be finalised on January 10 and start work on January 16.

What will it do?

The work of the citizen collective will help develop and promote the vaccination campaign and "respond to concerns and questions from people in France". 

They will be able to ask questions, make observations and challenge [Health Minister] Olivier Véran or Professor Alain Fischer, appointed by the government to lead  the vaccine strategy, on the management of the epidemic and the vaccination programme.

But this group is not a decision-maker. Its mission is not to "define the vaccine strategy", but to "propose accompanying measures in order to objectively promote the acceptability of the vaccine", the Prime Minister's office told Le Monde.

The first meeting will take place on January 16, with a view to an assessment expected this summer. A digital consultation platform will also be created to allow all those who wish to express themselves.

Has this happened before?

Yes, there are even several. Last June, 150 citizens of the Citizen's Climate Convention adopted a series of proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but several measures were then rejected by the government.

In 2016, Marisol Touraine, then-Minister of Health, asked Alain Fischer, the current " Monsieur vaccine" , to chair a steering committee of a major citizen consultation on vaccination, intended to respond to the growing "mistrust" of part of the population.

The proposals in its report had notably led the government to make eight additional vaccines compulsory for young children. "Critics were then formulated on the failure to take into account the opinions of the citizens' committee", according to Le Monde, but Prof Fischer believes that a "consensus" then emerged.

What's the reaction to the collective?

Perhaps it's best to say it could be better. “A tool”, “political manipulation”, “pathetic manoeuvre” ... just some of the phrases used by political opponents to the initiative. The irony is, it was suggested by the Parti Socialiste's Olivier Faure...

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