French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday that France would begin vaccinating people against Covid from the end of December or early January and that a “citizens' group” would supervise the roll-out.
The president promised a "rapid and large-scale vaccination campaign" but said that it will not be made compulsory.
In a live television speech where he announced deconfinement steps, the president said that a scientific committee will be put in charge of overseeing the vaccination against Covid-19 and that a citizens’ group would be created to “involve the population more widely”.
He said, "vaccinations must be carried out in a clear and transparent manner by sharing all information at every stage.
"Our strategy is based on several vaccines. Some of them will be available from the end of December-early January, and then there will be a second generation in the spring."
Des vaccins seront disponibles dès fin décembre – début janvier, une seconde génération arrivera au printemps. C'est une formidable lueur d'espoir. La vaccination se fera dans un cadre transparent et, soyons clairs, elle ne sera pas obligatoire.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 24, 2020
France is one of the world’s most sceptical nations when it comes to vaccines, with only 54% polled saying they would get vaccinated against Covid-19.
France ranked last out of 15 countries in an Ipsos poll on attitudes to vaccines, trailing behind the UK (79%), Germany (69%), and Italy (65%).
Pollsters spoke to 1,500 people in France, aiming at a representative population sample.
Only 18% “strongly agreed” that if a vaccine was available they would have it, while 36% “somewhat agreed”.
People seem surprised at the number of French people saying they won't take the Covid vaccine, but anti-vax attitudes are nothing new in France.— John Burn-Murdoch (@jburnmurdoch) November 19, 2020
Last year I worked with @wellcometrust on their global survey of attitudes to vaccines, and France was worst in Europe.
Also Japan https://t.co/Fazux9GhkA pic.twitter.com/E0OjIArjrt
Journalist and political commentator for news channel BFMTV Matthieu Croissandeau said he thinks the desire to create a citizens' commission is particularly linked to the climate of mistrust towards vaccines in the country.
"France is angry with the vaccines,” he said.
“The subject is so explosive that the President of the Republic did not dare to make this vaccine compulsory, as is the case with [Tetanus, Diphtheria and Polio vaccine].
He implied that by not making the vaccine mandatory, the president had pandered to conspiracy theorists.
“[He] insisted that we must rely on science, but it is not enough for him to say it for us to believe it.
“There is such a crisis of confidence in the country today that everything that comes from above is immediately criticised, suspected, sometimes distorted," Mr Croissandeau said.
He compared the creation of the citizen’s group to the citizen’s commission that the president set up to advise the government on climate issues, and said the idea was a part of Macron’s vision for “participatory democracy”.
France has pre-ordered 90 million doses from several vaccine suppliers, with a first batch of 7.9 million vaccines expected to arrive mid-January.
With two doses needed per person, 45 million people could be vaccinated.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said: “We need to know the vaccines are effective and safe, and that they have been given all necessary authorisations. If this is done, there is no reason why we can’t start vaccinating by mid-January.”