French health workers remain sceptical of Covid vaccine

A report found that only 19% of care home staff planned to take the Covid-19 vaccination

6 January 2021
Health professionals can play a role in promoting vaccines, the WHO states, but scepticism among this group remains high in France
By Connexion journalist

France is speeding up its Covid vaccine roll-out with health professionals aged over 50 eligible since Monday (January 4) to get the jab, but scepticism among nurses and doctors appears to be high. 

Over 75s to get Covid vaccine in France before end of month

One nurse, interviewed by FranceInfo, described how in the hospital she works at, most of the staff are opposed to getting a vaccine against Covid-19.

“The majority did not want to hear about it,” she said, after the topic came up at her workplace.

“Of the eight around the table, five were totally opposed, two were undecided and I was the only one convinced.”

A December survey carried out by France’s care home union Fehpad found that out of 1,992 health workers at retirement homes, 76% did not wish to be vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Of those asked, only 19% said they would take the vaccine, while 5% were undecided. 

Why the scepticism?

The nurse who spoke to FranceInfo said that the arguments her colleagues gave against the vaccine were typical of those being shared often online. 

“It’s too fast, there is a lack of objectivity, the vaccine is hiding something, why have they still not found a vaccine against AIDS...” she said. 

"I would have liked to have had some rational feedback, but I had nothing. When I talked about the study carried out by the laboratories on the different phases, no one had read it.

“I can understand, it is not easy to immerse oneself in a scientific study. But I think it's a shame for health workers to say they are against the vaccine without looking for information, to make a decision based on rumours and not on facts,” she said.

Ludovic Meunier, a nurse and trade union delegate at the Centre Hospitalier de Châteauroux, reported a similar doubt.

“What is certain is that, at first glance, not all health workers are ready to be vaccinated. This is a hesitation that is also prevalent among those over the age of 50,” he told radio network France Bleu.

Mr Meunier said there is not necessarily scepticism about the usefulness of vaccines in general, but the impression is that there is a lack of information on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in particular.

“Quite simply because there is no transparency with regard to this vaccine. Adverse effects have not been studied much. There is also no certainty that the vaccine will stop people spreading the virus...So at the moment it's not very transparent,” he said.

Alexis Bataille, a nurse and nursing student, wrote for infirmieres.com that while it seems paradoxical for health professionals to be anti-vaccine, it is not a new phenomenon.

“For example, each year flu vaccinations do not get the full support of health professionals of all categories, from doctors to service workers. 

“In this respect mistrust reflects, on the one hand, the fact that the nurse, despite being aware, is not free of preconceived ideas about how to control his or her own state of health. 

“They are a human being, the subject of a society, at the heart of intrinsic systems of influence and experience,” he wrote. 

Health professionals can help promote the vaccine

A study carried out by the World Health Organisation found that health professionals can play a role in combating anti-vaccination attitudes. 

“Studies have shown that health professionals are more likely to recommend vaccination if they themselves have been vaccinated,” the report published on October 15, 2020, stated.

“Targeting efforts to facilitate the vaccination of health professionals can in turn lead to greater acceptance and uptake by the general population. 

“These efforts can include improving health professionals’ knowledge about the vaccine and increasing their co-workers’ support for the vaccine,” the report noted.

In France, following the advice of the health body the Haute Autorité de Santé, the government prioritised vaccinating residents of care homes and the staff there.

In other countries, such as the UK, health professionals were among the first group of people to be vaccinated. 

France’s approach has meant a slower roll-out of the vaccine due to complexities in vaccinating care home residents. 

Why France’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out has started slowly

Read more:

Fast-track process for anyone who wants Covid-19 vaccine

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