Anti-vax sentiment against the Covid-19 vaccination appears to be growing sharply in France, after a new poll put the number of people opposed to the jab at higher than 50% for the first time.
A new survey by pollster Ifop found that 59% of the French public do “not have the intention to get a vaccination when it becomes possible”.
The online poll asked a nationally-representative sample of the French public for newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
Politically, opponents to the jab are more likely to support opposition parties such as La France Insoumise and the far-right group Rassemblement National. Those aged under 35 are also more likely to be wary.
The new poll suggests that the anti-vax sentiment has grown in the past month, as the 59% not intending to get the jab has risen from the 46% found in an earlier Ipsos poll from late October.
France most sceptical in Europe
The French public is known to be more wary of vaccination compared to other European countries.
In a recent Ipsos poll - of a nationally-representative sample of 1,500 members of the French public - France ranked last out of 15 countries on the question of trust in vaccines, trailing behind the UK (79%), Germany (69%), and Italy (65%).
Various conspiracy theories and anti-vax petitions in France have gained ground online in recent months, with one petition called “No to mandatory vaccination” gathering more than 150,000 signatures.
Signatories have written comments such as “I do not trust fast vaccines, nor the people who want to impose them onto us,” and “Vaccines are dangerous and useless”, while another wrote: “Making a vaccine that has been made too quickly mandatory would be criminal on the part of the state, and equally, a denial of democracy.”
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
‘Communication’ called for
Medical experts worldwide have recommended that widespread use of a vaccine must be the next step in combating Covid, and that the vaccine is safe.
On the subject of persuading the public in France to have the vaccine, immunologist and professor emeritus of the Collège de France, Professor Alain Fischer told Le Figaro that in France, communication was key.
He said: “A very large information campaign, with a real effort on communication and education is needed. This should not just come down from the authorities, but also doctors, patient associations of people with chronic illnesses, who can really help the messaging. We must convince people, explain, inform.”
He added: “Vaccination goes in concentric circles, and the first people to be vaccinated will pass that onto others, who will see that it has gone well, which will allow us to convince people in gradual steps.
“There is an altruistic nature in vaccination, which is about protecting other people, and a whole part of the population that is especially sensitive.”
And last month, president of government advisory council le Conseil Scientifique, Professor Delfraissy, said: “We must pay very careful attention before making a Covid-19 vaccination mandatory. It would be preferable for our citizens to take control themselves.
“I would expect that older and more fragile people will get vaccines en masse. For the younger people, getting vaccinated in such a context as this is a civic act.”
President Macron has also said that a new committee of scientific advisors will monitor the vaccination campaign so that is “shares, at each stage, all the information in a clear and transparent way; everything we know and everything we do not”.
Similarly, Health Minister Olivier Veran has clearly stated that the public will be involved in monitoring the roll-out of the vaccine system in France, in a bid to improve transparency, improve communication and trust, and mitigate the spread of misinformation.
This could take the form of a group of 150 randomly-selected members of the public - in a similar style to the Citizens’ Convention on climate earlier in the year - or even small focus groups of 20 to 30 people. This has not yet been confirmed.
Some politicians - including the MEP Yannick Jadot, of eco party Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) - have called for the vaccine to be made mandatory, while the centre-left party PRG has even called for people’s medical reimbursement rights to be revoked if they refuse to have the vaccine.
However President Macron has ruled out making the vaccine mandatory, and instead called for good communication on the safety and value of the jab.
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.”