In France, one can expect ‘mistrust of a Covid-19 vaccine’

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More than four out of ten French people would be reluctant to get a vaccine for Covid-19 if one becomes available, a new study shows. Jowharspoke with a public health expert who said the government should commit to transparency and listen to doctors to help facilitate the rollout of future vaccination plans.

In a study of global public acceptance of a Covid-19 vaccine published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine, the researchers found that 41.11 percent of French citizens indicated that they would be reluctant or even refuse to be vaccinated, if one were to become available. Only Poland and Russia expressed less willingness to be grafted.

This rejection comes as no surprise to Lucie Guimier, a public health expert at the Institut Français de Géopolitique and author of a report on the geopolitical consequences of vaccine skepticism.

FRANCE 24: Do the results of the survey surprise you?

Lucie Guimier: There is nothing surprising about these results. It would be wrong to categorize these respondents as “anti-waxers” because we are talking about a vaccine that is still being developed and for which we have little or no time for reflection or perspective. it takes about 10 years to develop a vaccine before it is ready for marketing, so these are legitimate concerns – a wave of mistrust regarding a Covid-19 vaccination can be expected.

Even in the context of a pandemic, laboratories should not rush into the market with a vaccine that has not been adequately studied or that would have harmful effects on sections of the population. This will only increase the crisis we are already experiencing and would create even more distrust of the authorities.

The French response to the vaccine will also depend on how the government manages this campaign and communicates its message. Many questions remain unanswered: How will these vaccines be made available to the public? Who is involved in the debate? Will there be sufficient stocks?

A Global Study of Potential Acceptance of a COVID-19 Vaccine © Nature Medicine (2020)

Q24: How can the authorities gain the trust of the population?

LG: To limit this mistrust, in my opinion, all healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, midwives, etc. – should be involved in the debate because these medical professionals inspire much more confidence among patients than government officials. If we do not succeed in including them in this vaccination campaign and listening to them, it will be difficult to raise awareness.

Q24: Could greater transparency in health policies also play a role?

LG: Health researchers have been hammering on this for years. More transparency is absolutely necessary. We must not hide behind simplistic arguments or take a paternalistic tone by simply saying “Get vaccinated”. And although the French public health system is already trying to raise awareness on this subject, it is not an easy task.

The problem is that when we face people who refuse to be vaccinated, the more we argue, the more likely they are to see this as justification for the state having a hidden agenda – that it’s about collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and the political elites kind of thing. We know that this minority of anti-vaccine people will be very difficult to convince. And the persuasion effort must, above all, reach those who are skeptical or hesitant.

Q24: Is mistrust of vaccines more widespread in France than elsewhere?

LG: Not necessarily. Vaccination history has always been marked by protest movements, but each country has its own characteristics that depend on the historical context and ideology behind the health systems.

For example, China’s view of public health is not the same as in some other countries. China (which, according to the study, has a vaccination acceptance rate of more than 80 percent) is a state with a communist system and a strong public health culture. Vaccination policies are implemented without much restraint or setbacks. On the other hand, one of the special features of France may be that when it comes to health, the French expect a lot from the state, while at the same time being very critical when it intervenes.

France has also had some unique experiences with vaccines. Many still remember the winter of 2009-2010, when the H1N1 vaccination campaign rolled out very quickly. About 60 cases of narcolepsy were subsequently recorded in the country, which was not a small number. These undesirable effects have, of course, left an impression on humans.

But while the anti-vaccine discourse is very soluble and has even gained strength or merged with the anti-mask movements in some parts of the world, their impact is still limited in France. One only has to look at the current shortage of flu vaccine in pharmacies to see this.

Q24: Does compulsory vaccination seem like a legitimate option?

LG: Implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for Covid-19 seems very difficult to me – the state would face enormous resistance. We saw this in 2018 when the government expanded the list of mandatory vaccinations for children. This was met with a lot of mistrust from some people.

When we see that some people are already reluctant to wear masks, introducing a mandatory vaccination policy – which is more intrusive – seems extremely complicated.

Although the state prefers everyone to be vaccinated, the question of whether we could do so is still logistical. But a first step would be to make it mandatory or highly recommended for the most fragile sections of society, such as the elderly or otherwise vulnerable.

This article is translated from the original interview in French.