Majority of French Support National COVID Vaccine Mandate as 'Health Pass' Bill Approved

Two recent polls indicate a majority of the French support the idea of a coronavirus vaccine mandate for everyone in the country as the government recently approved a law mandating COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers.

The law was approved by parliament early Monday, and also sets up a "health pass" for everyone if they wish to enter restaurants or other public venues.

Though a majority of French health care workers are vaccinated, both measures have prompted protests by the unvaccinated minority around France.

France has officially entered its "fourth wave" of the pandemic, which prompted the government to pass the new mandates. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the law is meant to prevent a new lockdown and to limit the risks of vulnerable people in hospitals, rather than stigmatizing health care workers who don't want to receive the vaccine.

For more reporting from the Associated Press see below:

Health Care Workers Protest Vaccine Mandate
The French government recently approved a law that mandates COVID-19 vaccines for all health care workers in addition to a "health pass" system for people who wish to enter public venues. A protestor holds a placard reading "Health workers united against injustice" during a demonstration against the measures, in Marseille, southern France on Saturday. Clement Mahoudeau/AFP via Getty Images

Many cite incorrect information about the vaccines circulating on the internet, worry about their long-term effects or want more time to decide. Several health workers said they took issue with the mandate, not the vaccines themselves.

At one Paris protest, some carried signs reading "My body, my choice," and a health worker dressed as the Statue of Liberty called it an "act of violence" to force people to get vaccinated.

Céline Augen, a secretary at a doctor's office, knows she may lose her job if she refuses to get a shot but protested Saturday anyway.

"I'm here today in favor of the freedom to choose to get vaccinated or not," she said.

Solene Manable, a recent nursing school graduate who is working in a Lille hospital, said, "There are many health workers who don't want to get vaccinated because we don't know much about the vaccines."

Scientists said that is simply not true anymore. The vaccines used in France—Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson—were tested in tens of thousands of people around the world, and results of the studies have been shared with the public. More than 2 billion people worldwide have now received coronavirus vaccines, including most French adults, providing a broad overview of vaccines' impact on people's health.

Vaccine hesitancy among some health workers has been an issue in the U.S. and elsewhere, too. But the French mandate is stirring up anger on the political fringes in a country long considered more vaccine-skeptic than its European neighbors.

France has faced medical scandals in recent decades involving vaccines, diet pills and breast implants that have seeded doubts about the medical establishment. Suspicion of big pharmaceutical companies is relatively common, and politicians on both the extreme right and the left are now fueling that skepticism for their own ends.

Retired doctor Bruno de Ligny, who volunteers in vaccination centers in Normandy, stressed that the technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines widely used in France, while new, has been under research for more than 20 years. He also noted French health workers must already be vaccinated against hepatitis B—a vaccine not compulsory for the rest of the population—but "no one claimed that was dictatorial when it was implemented."

"These health workers say they want the 'freedom' not to be vaccinated," he said. "They do not realize that what they are really asking for is the freedom to kill."

Patrick Pelloux, president of the Association of Emergency Physicians of France, lauded the French government for taking decisive action in the face of rising infections. The country is now seeing about 20,000 new infections a day, up from just a few thousand in early July, and has counted over 111,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic.

Pelloux said workers in the lowest-skill health care jobs are among the most vaccine-wary, a symptom of what he called an overlooked "class struggle" in public hospitals, where there is little interaction between different levels of medical workers.

In June, France's public health agency estimated that 72.2 percent of doctors had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 58.7 percent of nurses and 50 percent of assistant nurses. The discrepancy predates the pandemic: according to health authorities, 72.2 percent of doctors received a vaccine against the flu in the winter of 2018, while only 20.9 percent of assistant nurses did.

Some health workers feel they are being talked down to and are underappreciated in general.

But emergency medicine doctor Pelloux said vaccine resistance in his profession infuriates him.

"Our job is to cure people, not to kill them. We have an ethical...and civic duty to get vaccinated and limit hospital-acquired COVID infections," he said, adding that most of those who died of COVID-19 in France would still be alive today if they had received a vaccine. And health workers have been among those most exposed, and infected.

Some protesters said they would eventually consent to getting the shots, if given no choice, but that they would resent it. Others said they would attempt to buy fake vaccine certificates. French police have arrested several people suspected of trafficking fake virus certificates on social media, where the documents can fetch several hundred euros [dollars] each.

A majority of French adults have been fully vaccinated, and millions more have lined up for jabs in the past two weeks. For all the high-profile protests, polls indicate that overall French vaccine hesitancy has ebbed in recent months and most people support the vaccine mandate for health care workers.

People in public in France
France's parliament approved a law requiring special virus passes for all restaurants and domestic travel, and mandating vaccinations for all health workers. Above, people stroll at Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Monday. Michel Euler/AP Photo