France will let healthcare staff without a Covid vaccine return to work later this month after more than 18 months away.
They were suspended from work in September 2021, and until now, the government had repeatedly said they must stay away. This was despite hospital staff shortages and calls from opposition MPs to let workers return.
By November 2022, 4,000 workers were still suspended without pay, according to figures from hospital group la Fédération hospitalière de France.
At the time, France’s health minister, François Braun, told the radio network RTL there were 1,050 nurses still suspended, out of 300,000 working.
Now, however, the health minister has said workers will be allowed to return from mid-May, after taking advice from the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS).
The new advice was published on March 30. It said that although vaccinations remain “strongly recommended…for students and professionals in the healthcare and medico-social sectors”, they no longer need to be “mandatory”.
But Dr Benjamin Davido, infectious diseases specialist at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches, near Paris, has said that hospital staff are “apathetic” about the announcement and that few workers are set to return.
He told FranceInfo: “To my knowledge in my establishment, [no worker] wants to come back, of the rare few who deserted it.”
He said that most of them are likely to have moved on to something else. He also believes those who mistrust vaccinations are no longer likely to trust medicine overall.
“These people haven’t worked for three years, and most have changed jobs and paths,” he said. “Most have lost confidence in science, vaccination, and in some ways, in the sick.
“If you believe that the vaccine is nonsense, you've lost this thread, this very strong link that connects you to the teams, to science, and to healthcare workers,” he added.