France takes careful vaccine approach to counter skepticism

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PARIS (AP) – As governments across Europe launched their vaccination plans against the virus this weekend with fanfare, France has taken a more low-key approach amid widespread skepticism among its citizens about vaccines .

After the first shots were injected on Sunday into the arm of Mauricette, 78, a woman in a long-term care facility near Paris, President Emmanuel Macron appealed to his compatriots: “Let us trust our researchers and doctors. We are the nation of the Enlightenment and of (vaccine pioneer Louis) Pasteur. Reason and science must guide us. “

Yet many of his compatriots are worried. They remember the French health scandals of the past decades, including those involving poorly managed vaccines. They fear that coronavirus vaccines have been developed too quickly, aim to bring profits to big pharmaceutical companies, or risk long-term side effects that the world will not discover for years to come.

France has lost more lives to the virus than most countries, and its economy – one of the largest in the world – has been deeply crippled by two virus lockdowns. Doctors hope France’s reluctance to get vaccinated will go away as more people get vaccinated.

Dr Jean-Jacques Monsuez, a 65-year-old cardiologist in a nursing home north-east of Paris, was the second vaccinated in France on Sunday. After he and several elderly patients were injected, he said, “They are vaccinated, we are vaccinated, we are all in the same boat. And the boat cannot sink.

“And around the ship there is a country that cannot sink.”

France’s far-right and far-left politicians have fueled concerns about vaccines, but polls commissioned by the national health agency suggest skepticism is also coming from some moderate voters.

Justine Lardon walks with a crutch after suffering severe side effects from a hepatitis B vaccine in 2010 and is reluctant to be vaccinated against the virus. She told the regional newspaper Le Progres that she supported the vaccination, but feared doctors were paying enough attention to individual health issues.

“If (the vaccine) can wipe out the epidemic, that’s really great, but I don’t want a vaccine that is a time bomb,” she said.

The French government has been cautious in its messages, anxious not to be seen as requiring vaccination of the public. Instead, authorities are relying on doctors to convince patients that the vaccine is in their best interest and that of the country.

Macron reiterated on Sunday that the vaccine will be free – not compulsory.

France’s first vaccination was not broadcast live on television like elsewhere, and no minister attended. No senior official has yet said they have received the vaccine, insisting instead that it should go to the most vulnerable first.

In a country with a large elderly population, many of whom have cognitive impairments, the government has come under pressure from affected families to develop detailed guidelines for obtaining consent from nursing home patients before vaccinating them.

However, many French people are eager to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

“I am very touched,” said Mauricette when told she was the first in France to be vaccinated. “You are a star,” said the doctor who administered it, after gently folding Mauricette’s sleeve over the small bandage on her arm.

“We didn’t need to convince her. She said “yes, I am ready to do anything to avoid contracting this disease,” said Dr Samir Tine, head of geriatric services at his establishment in Sevran, northeast of Paris.

“It’s an important day” …

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