Amid low vaccination rates among healthcare personnel and after residents of a nursing home in the Landes region of France were infected with the Delta variant of Covid-19, the French government is pushing forward with plans to require those working in the health sector to take the jab.
To prevent similar incidents in the future, legislation is currently being drafted that would require those who work in hospitals or nursing homes to take the Covid-19 vaccine. Prime Minister Jean Castex said Wednesday that he would begin consultations on the subject “in the coming days”.
“I am, like all French people, shocked…when we see the epidemic reintroduced…through those whose vocation is to protect and care,” Castex said. “This is not acceptable.”
In the nursing home cluster, one of several in the region, 23 residents – 21 of whom had been fully vaccinated – and six staff members were infected with the variant. Nineteen of the cases were identified as the Delta variant. Three of the residents were hospitalized, but none was admitted to intensive care.
Officials have not announced if the bill will be formally presented to parliament before the summer holiday or in September but Health Minister Olivier Véran indicated in a letter to directors of hospitals and nursing homes that health workers would have until September to get their jabs. If at that point less than 80 percent of staff have been inoculated, “we will pave the way for mandatory vaccination for health professionals”, the letter said.
Currently, less than 60 percent of nursing home workers and less than 64 percent of hospital workers have been vaccinated, according to Alain Fischer, the government’s point man on vaccination. “This is clearly insufficient,” he told the weekly newspaper, the Sunday Journal (JDD). “They must do it to protect patients. It is a principle of responsibility and example setting.”
Fischer said he thought the legislation should apply to anyone in contact with the public. He said he feared that insufficient vaccination rates throughout the country could lead to a fourth wave of the pandemic in France. And he reminded that a single dose of a two-dose vaccine does not provide ample protection.
The Hospital Federation of France (FHF) is in favour of compulsory vaccination for workers who come in contact with the public. The Synerpa, one of the main federations representing private nursing homes, is also in favour of compulsory vaccinations.
In Sunday’s JDD, 96 of France’s top health professionals signed an open letter calling on the government to make the vaccine obligatory for “any person who, in a public or private prevention or care establishment or institution, or one that accommodates the elderly, performs a professional activity that exposes him or her or the persons in his or her charge to risks of contamination".
Caregivers must be vaccinated, they wrote, “because it is an ethical duty to protect the vulnerable people in their care”.
Other key science and medical figures have come around. Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the National Consultative Ethics Committee, told France Inter radio on Wednesday that he initially had been against obliging anyone to be vaccinated but has changed his mind.
Two prominent union leaders called on employees of all companies to get vaccinated in Sunday’s JDD. “We solemnly call on employees who are not protected from the virus to be vaccinated without delay,” Laurent Berger, secretary general of the CFDT, and Medef President Goeffroy Roux de Bézieux wrote in an article published in the JDD Sunday.
Support of the measure is not unanimous. The AD-PA, an association for directors of nursing homes is against it, among other groups.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)