The French government faces a clash with tens of thousands of healthcare workers and caregivers on Wednesday over a new rule requiring them to receive a Covid-19 vaccine or face suspension without pay.
As of Wednesday, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, nursing home workers, private physicians, members of the fire service, and people who care for the elderly or infirm in their homes, about 2.7 Millions of people in total must be able to show that they have had at least one injection of a vaccine.
President Emmanuel Macron issued the ultimatum two months ago, but tens of thousands of caregivers remain unvaccinated.
One of France’s largest public sector unions, the hardliner CGT, has warned of a “health catastrophe” if the government suspends large numbers of healthcare workers and bans the practice of private sector doctors.
Defiant healthcare workers have joined opponents of a new coronavirus “health pass” required to enter restaurants, cafes and museums in weekly protests that have taken place across France in the past two months.
On Tuesday, a few hundred people attended a union-led rally in front of the Ministry of Health in Paris.
“Whether we are vaccinated or not, we are against it being mandatory,” Valerie, a 57-year-old nursing assistant who did not want to give her last name, told AFP.
News channel BFM reported Tuesday that a hospital in the southern city of Montelimar had begun canceling dozens of operations scheduled for next week due to a shortage of vaccinated anesthetists.
“Four theaters will not be able to function normally,” Henri Osman, director of the hospital’s medical commission, told the network.
Estimates released by the national public health agency a week ago showed that about 12 percent of hospital staff and about six percent of doctors in private practices had not yet been vaccinated.
The national federation of ambulance workers FNMS in late August estimated that 13 percent of its members were still resisting coronavirus vaccines.
Amel Benothman, a 41-year-old nurse and father of three who works at a psychiatric hospital in the northern city of Lille, told AFP that he was “too concerned” about the side effects of the vaccine to get vaccinated, even if it meant losing his work.
“I already had a mild case of Covid and I consider that the risks outweigh the benefits,” he said during a demonstration in Lille on Saturday.
France is not the first country to take steps to force people who work with vulnerable people to get vaccinated.
Last week, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, made vaccines mandatory for millions of federal employees and contractors, as well as for companies with more than 100 employees.
In Europe, Italy made the vaccine mandatory for healthcare workers at the end of May and plans to extend the measure to nursing home staff in October, while Greece has already introduced it to both categories of caregivers.
Despite calls for leniency from French unions, the government has promised to carry out the policy.
“We will not back down,” Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last month.