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Ban on non-vaccinated healthcare workers in France to stay – for now

President Macron avoids difficult vote during a night of shenanigans at the Assemblée nationale

Approximately 15,000 health professionals are concerned Pic: Blue Planet Studio / Shutterstock

President Emmanuel Macron and his party have pushed back a bill by the far left to reintegrate unvaccinated nurses and other care workers into the health system.

During a stormy parliamentary session on Thursday night (November 24) Mr Macron’s supporters managed to put off holding the sensitive reinstatement vote in a country where the debate surrounding vaccination is still divisive.

While France remains one of the few countries to refuse unvaccinated carers, pressure is growing. La France Insoumise (LFI), the far-left party of presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has filed a bill to reinstate these caregivers.

This would be on the condition that these workers carried out daily Covid tests, which LFI stated in its bill could be funded by the state thanks to an increase in real estate wealth tax. 

The day reserved for the LFI group in the Assembly turned sour with the opposition castigating the "manoeuvres" of the presidential camp to prevent the sensitive vote on whether the non-vaccinated should be allowed to return.

MPs asking question told ‘they will shut up’

"You're going to shut up,” Guadeloupe MP Olivier Serva told MPs who questioned him during his speech at one point.

The representative of the French overseas territory denounced the techniques used to slow down the debate. The issue is a sore point for several French territories.

"You use small subterfuges, like your ideals, you dirty democracy with your baseness, you are in the minority, accept it!" he stormed. 

"You should be ashamed!" said Olivier Marleix, the leader of the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) group, whose members are also in favour of reinstatement.

In February, President Macron famously made the headlines by saying he was going to “piss off” people who refused the vaccination - he later said it was meant ‘with affection.’
Read more: Macron: ‘I talked about pissing off the unvaccinated with affection’

However he meant it - he seems to have succeeded.

Heated exchanges could be heard from the Assembly corridors. 

"The overseas feel humiliated, despised by the government and the members of the presidential majority," said one MP, stating that they had witnessed "very tense" exchanges.

Vaccination obligation considered logical

The vaccination obligation came into effect on September 15, 2021, with the almost unanimous support of care workers. It was considered a logical move as they are in contact with the people most exposed to Covid, whose health they are responsible for. 

The implementation of this new requirement gave rise to many tensions. Some healthcare personnel cited a lack of necessary information on the vaccine's effectiveness, or personal beliefs, to refuse vaccination. Suspensions had to be imposed.

The exact number of non-vaccinated caregivers remains unknown. An old figure continues to circulate: that of 15,000 professionals concerned, mentioned again last week by the actress Anny Duperey, on French channel C8.

MP Caroline Fiat, author of the text, said: “We are experiencing a shortage of staff in the emergency rooms. In this context, each person counts.” 

Read more: Covid, flu and bronchiolitis are ‘hitting hard’ in France this year

‘Issue contributing to crisis in hospitals’

Eric Ciotti, with the 40 other MPs in the LR group, asked the health minister in an open letter "to reinstate the suspended and unvaccinated nursing staff", and argued that this suspension "has no sense and contributes to the crisis in our hospitals".

The figure of 15,000 – an estimate – dates to October 2021, a month after the mandatory caregiver vaccination came into effect, and days before suspensions were enforced.

The then health minister, Olivier Véran, said that 15,000 carers were not yet vaccinated and were not the only ones concerned, since this count included other "personnel of health and medico-social establishments". 

A number of suspensions were quickly lifted and by the end of October Mr Véran assured the Senate that "two thirds of the healthcare workers suspended for lack of vaccination returned to work once they had been vaccinated – in metropolitan France and overseas."

Read also: We made an error on Covid masks, says France’s former health minister

How many care workers are affected?

More than a year after the implementation of the vaccination obligation, there are still no detailed figures, profession by profession. 

François Braun, Minister of Health since July, when recently questioned, said that among the suspended staff, "there are very few doctors and there are 1,050 nurses," out of a total of 637,000 nationwide. 

For Arnaud Robinet, the president of the French Hospital Federation (FHF), "the debate has no place" because there are "rules when you are a hospital agent".

Mr Robinet applies the same argument to influenza jabs, adding that two thirds of nurses are not vaccinated. “Should it be made mandatory?" he wonders. 

"Think of the caregivers, hospitals, the bottleneck caused by a triple epidemic of bronchiolitis, Covid-19 and a flu that arrives much earlier, and is very virulent," he added.

Mr Robinet said hospitals have not yet got back to their level of activity in 2019 and fears "deprogramming" this winter. To date, there is a shortfall of 3.5 million medical acts in 2022. 

"A form of responsibility and solidarity must be put in place," he insists.

Read more

France needs up to 15,000 pharmacists to fill gaps, unions say

Covid: Daily updates on the situation in France

Hospital shortages in France: Macron rules out unvaccinated workers

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