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Covid France: Mandatory vaccines for care workers possible in autumn

Experts warn of fourth wave if more people are not vaccinated by September and a study finds unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to transmit the virus to others

Vaccination against Covid-19 could become mandatory for some care workers by September, French authorities have said.

These include workers in elderly care homes and hospitals where residents and patients may be particularly vulnerable to the virus.

In a letter to hospital and care home directors Health Minister Olivier Véran and Autonomy Minister Brigitte Bourguignon wrote: “Our objective is that by September at least 80% of professionals in elderly care homes and health establishments have received at least one dose.

“If this does not happen, we will open the way for mandatory vaccination for health professionals.”

The letter said that only 55% of workers in elderly care homes and extended care units are currently vaccinated with at least one dose.

“This is insufficient, especially considering the vulnerability of residents and patients in light of the spread of worrying variants,” they wrote. 

On June 29, Mr Véran told FranceInfo Radio that vaccinating care workers would reduce the risk of waves of the virus among the elderly and vulnerable.

“I don’t want to incriminate carers – their work is complicated and they have had a very difficult year,” he said. “[But] the only way to put Covid behind us is to protect the most vulnerable among us; those who, even when they are vaccinated, are still at risk.” 

President of the government's Covid advisory body le Conseil scientifique, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, said that he supports the idea.

“I have changed my mind on vaccinating care workers, especially those working in elderly care homes. I used to be against making vaccines mandatory, but it seems to me now that we have reached a stage where we must envisage doing so,” he told FranceInfo Radio.

50% of people in France have had first dose

Half of the population in France, equivalent to 33.5million people, have now received a first dose vaccination against Covid-19, figures from June 29 show.

Almost a third of the population (32.5% or 21.8million people) are fully vaccinated.

But the Institut Pasteur has released a study warning of the possibility of a fourth wave of the epidemic in autumn if the pace of vaccination does not increase now. 

The study said that unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to transmit the virus to others, and emphasised that social distancing measures such as mask wearing are still necessary in order to avoid a “significant peak” in hospitalisations.

The researchers forecast that if only 30% of 12-17-year-olds, 70% or 18-59-year-olds and 90% of people over 60 get vaccinated by autumn, non-vaccinated adults could make up a large portion of hospital cases in a potential fourth wave.

The study said: “Among all the measures studied, vaccinating unvaccinated people is the most effective way to control the epidemic.”

Read more: Concern as Covid vaccination rate for first jabs drops in France

France unlikely to hit 80% vaccination target

This comes as the Académie de médecine has said that if France continues at its current pace, it is “unlikely that it will reach a rate of vaccination coverage of 80% of the population by October, meaning the level of collective immunity needed to avoid a resurgence of the epidemic”. 

To this end, the health minister said more people in France need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

“The battle can be won now,” he told FranceInfo Radio. “People in France do not understand that we will be forced to ask questions about whether restaurants and shops can stay open because 20% of them chose not to get vaccinated.”

Making vaccination mandatory for health workers is one way to push up numbers.

Mr Véran also said he expected national data privacy body Cnil to approve a decision to let GPs know which of their patients are vaccinated, to allow doctors to “mobilise” unvaccinated patients.

Free access to PCR tests for travel and leisure is also under review.

And the Institut Pasteur said that efforts to control the spread of the virus in schools would be needed in September.

Its study found that more than half of cases are now being spread by people under 18, but many children and teenagers are likely to be unvaccinated by autumn.

It said: “We risk finding ourselves in a position where mostly vaccinated adults can almost get back to normal life, but students are still living with strict health protocols in schools as they are not vaccinated.” 

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