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 – which raises the question as to why this should be.
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%).
China and India showed the greatest confidence rates at 85% and 87%.
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”.
Researcher Antoine Bristielle, author of a report Vaccins: la piqûre de défiance for think-tank Fondation Jean Jaurès, said anti-vaccine feeling has been heightened by the pandemic but has deeper structural roots.
'Vaccine acceptance levels are linked to the level of people's trust in their politicians and scientists'
“First, they feel these vaccines were developed in haste and they worry about potential side effects (67% of French people against taking it gave these as their reasons in the poll)."
“The second reason is that the level of acceptance of a vaccine is linked to the level of trust people have in their politicians and scientists."
“In France, these are very low. It is very difficult to push through a vaccination policy when you don’t have the people’s trust.” In his study, Mr Bristielle found that age, gender and political leanings appeared to be determining factors.
Young people, less affected by the virus, are much less likely to opt for vaccination as they think it is not worth the risk.
Women are also less likely, with 50% saying they would not get the vaccine, compared to only 35% of men.
When it comes to politics, people who support political parties on the further ends of the political spectrum, such as those headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon (left) or Marine le Pen (right) were much more likely to be sceptical.
This is thought to be linked to distrust of political institutions, which tends to go with a mistrust in science and scientific institutions. Lack of a scientific consensus at the start of the epidemic added fuel to the fire.
Mr Bristielle said the problem is compounded by the media and social networks, where anti-vaccine proponents are vocal. “A fall in trust in scientists occurred at the start of the epidemic, when the media pitted scientists against one another,” he said.
“While it’s normal to have debates on government strategies against the pandemic, it would be good to remember that scientific arguments have to be based on facts, and not harebrained ideas.”
So what can the government do about this? As other experts have suggested, transparency will be key for gaining trust.
“The government must show more humility and be clear about where it is going. It must talk about the vaccine, explain what is in it and what is not known. The government has suddenly started talking about the Covid19 vaccines, without giving any explanation beforehand. People are wary.”
Bringing GPs on board is also important, as French people trust their doctors, Mr Bristielle said. “If doctors are the ones saying that it is important to get inoculated, then it’s likely many more people will.”