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Macron’s Plan to Reduce Hesitation on Vaccines – POLITICO

PARIS – The French government is redoubling efforts to step up COVID-19 vaccinations as a fourth wave of infections threatens to occur earlier than expected.

Emmanuel Macron is expected to agree on Monday to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for home workers in the health and care sector. He could go further and stipulate the use of the so-called COVID-19 Green Pass on a larger scale, introduce travel restrictions or charge COVID-19 tests in connection with leisure purposes.

The steps come as authorities stare at another deadly outbreak of infection just as the rate of people getting a first stab hits a new low. According to the Ministry of Health, it has fallen from a high of over 400,000 per day at the end of May to 200,000 per day.

France’s total injection rate is still over 600,000 per day, which is slightly above the EU average. But two thirds of them are second jabs, which doesn’t bode well for France’s direction of travel. This is of particular concern to state health officials as vaccination is now available to anyone over the age of 12.

Even when people go on vacation, it can have an impact, but the slump “shows reluctance to get vaccinated,” said Gilbert Deray, head of the kidney department at Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. “If we reach the glass ceiling, it is serious because we are below the 60 percent coverage.”

The slowdown in vaccination in France is similar to trends seen in countries like the US and Germany, where calls for more creative vaccination offers have been made.

But in France – where vaccination skepticism is particularly deeply ingrained – doctors warn that this barrier is severe enough to jeopardize the goal of herd immunity by autumn. Currently, half of the French population have received their first COVID-19 vaccination and only a third have received both doses.

In terms of the proportion of people vaccinated, France is slightly below the EU average, but lags behind western countries such as Great Britain and the USA

France’s cases are also increasing. Daily infections in the country have roughly tripled in two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins. The Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) said on Friday that the highly transmissible delta variant accounted for 43 percent of sequenced positive cases from June 28 to July 4, compared with 21 percent the previous week.

With Europeans heading to the beaches and mountains this summer, experts could account for 70 percent of all cases in Europe in early August and climb to 90 percent by the end of this month. And the only way to prevent further increases in serious cases and deaths is to vaccinate quickly, said Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

“There are still too many people at risk of serious COVID-19 infection that we need to protect as soon as possible,” Ammon said recently.

New measures in the pipeline

Macron’s new initiative aims to reduce vaccine hesitation and avoid a fourth wave of coronavirus that could plunge France back into economic misery and lower its own re-election chances.

The president is expected to announce new measures after a special cabinet meeting on Monday with ministers and senior officials to discuss ways to increase vaccinations and overcome the impending fourth wave.

The government is particularly concerned about the reluctance to vaccinate health workers. According to the French health authority, only 60 percent of home workers and 80 percent of private medical professionals received their first COVID-19 vaccination.

The government is expected to make vaccinations mandatory for health workers after the French COVID-19 advisory body gave it last Friday.

France could also decide to extend the use of the COVID-19 Green Pass – a digital or paper certificate to prove immunity – to venues such as cinemas, theaters and restaurants. The passport, which includes proof of vaccination or negative tests, is currently mandatory for events with 1,000 or more participants.

Other measures on the table include taking COVID-19 tests to encourage people to get vaccinated and imposing travel restrictions.

“But will the government take it? [coercive measures] less than 10 months before a presidential election? Nothing is less certain, “said Professor Deray.

According to Emilie Karafillakis, director of European research for the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Macron is grappling with a unique history of vaccine reluctance stemming from a series of ill-managed and botched medical events.

In the 1980s, the country witnessed the devastating effects of contaminated blood products that infected several thousand hemorrhagic blood with HIV and hepatitis C. Then in the 1990s rumors began to spread that a hepatitis B vaccine could cause multiple sclerosis – claims that have been refuted.

The government’s failure to communicate clearly “has led to a loss of confidence” in vaccinations, Karafillakis said, and to a wider distrust “in general” of French authorities and politicians.

To get people to vaccination centers, the government has redoubled a number of measures, including more flexibility in booking second vaccinations, outreach programs and promotional campaigns.

Some signs suggest that skepticism is subsiding. For example, recent polls by Odoxa show that 81 percent of French people are vaccinated or intend to vaccinate, up from about half at the beginning of the year.

But the polls show different shades of enthusiasm. For example, around 10 percent say they are “likely” to get vaccinated.

“When the vaccination was opened to everyone, everyone who really wanted the vaccination rushed to book appointments,” said Odoxa pollster Emile Leclerc. “Now we are reaching those who are a little suspicious, are not planning a trip abroad this summer or just want to take their time.”

This story has been updated to clarify the data source for France’s infection rates.

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