Both the Academy of Medicine and the European Court of Human Rights have been claiming for making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory. So far, the French government refuses to impose such a constraint to citizens. Yet, the evolution of the health situation might force the executive: France fears the pending arirval of a fourth epidemic wave caused by the Delta variant.
This variant has changed everything: the government is already preparing a draft bill to make vaccination compulsory to caregivers. Is Emmanuel Macron to announce - this Monday July 12 - this bill is to be extended to more professions? The Scientific Committee considers "caregivers", "people care" and more non-medical professions where employees are in contact with people might also have to be vaccinated.
Some even go a step further: academies of medicine and pharmacy want to make vaccination compulsory to all the French aged 12+. Although President Macron is unlikely to follow such recommendation, he might yet decide to make vaccination mandatory to many adults - and not only caregivers. During the July 7's Health Defense Council, he stated: "Now, we should not ask questions anymore! The French must understand vaccine is the only solution".
A failed strategy?
This matter also involves herd immunity: to reach this immunity in France, we need “90% of the adult population or 80% of the total population (children included)” to be vaccinated, the Academy of Medicine said.
A level very hard to reach, all the more so 3 French in 10 refuse to get vaccinated – according to an Odoxa-Backbone Consulting for France Info released this past April 8th.
But the health organizations think there is no choice: the government must make vaccination compulsory or the country could not overcome the epidemic. yet, the executive refuses this option and citizens are not ruling for it either. A study conducted in May by Cevipof and Opinionway shows that 51% of the French are for making vaccination compulsory, and 46% of surveyed are standing against.
The government considers this decision is a political and an ethical issue.
If Emmanuel Macron still refuses to impose vaccination, it is because he promised – during his televised address on November 24, 2020 – he “will not make vaccination compulsory”. The French President explains he could not make a new vaccine mandatory, as the people did not know it, and they did not trust it.
To encourage people to be vaccinated, the Head of State chose to bet on “transparent communications”. “If we want the Nation to resume normal life, we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated. But I respect each and everyone’s mind, this is why we did not make it compulsory. I would rather use conviction”, he claimed this past May 21st.
From the government’s point of view, this obligation would no longer be useful today: somehow, the executive manages to reach their vaccination goals. France exceeded the threshold of 20 million injections this past mid-May and reports over 10 million people fully vaccinated.
Yet, when all the volunteers would have been given access to vaccine, the curve of vaccinees will run into an issue: the one made by skeptics and the French against vaccination. The Health minister admits: “we are starting to arrive on the skeptical population”. To overcome the issue, the government bets on special policy. “We continue with this systematic ‘going towards’ policy, and we go by age group. We encouraged prefects, health agencies, elected representatives, vaccination centers to instate a last-kilometer strategy”.
For a while, they consider making Covid-19 vaccine compulsory for some jobs, especially caregivers. In March, Olivier Véran announced – yet without stepping into action – he will “refer to the National Consultative Ethics Committee (NCEC) to ask them if it was ethical to refuse to get vaccinated when one is a caregiver. It might lead us to make additional measures. We will see, we are not there yet”.
An ethical issue
Can one impose a medical procedure so someone for the good of the others? The National Consultative Ethics Committee gave their mind in late March. NCEC vice-president Karine Lefeuvre explained on France Info the “ethical issue is of the fair balance between the self-reliance principle relying on each and everyone’s liberty of consenting, and the common responsibility since vaccination delivers protection not only for one, but also for others”.
Therefore, amid a pandemic, the vaccinal obligation could only be instated “as a last resort, facing a very severe and dangerous situation created by an out-of-control pandemic, with an offer of vaccines including perfectly known and experienced effectiveness and harmlessness with the necessary perspective”, the Institute claimed.
Letting citizens choose whether they want to be vaccinated or not will postpone the arrival of herd immunity in France. Yet, people willing to be vaccinated can submit themselves to the different doses, and can encourage hesitant people to take the plunge, Lefeuvre notices.