France is showing caution and transparency to convince vaccine skeptics

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A well-produced film uploaded last month and titled Robbery supposed to reveal the vast conspiracy behind the Covid-19 pandemic. Among his claims, greedy pharmaceutical companies have rushed vaccines to market by cutting costs in clinical trials.

Scientists and fact-checkers quickly debunked his theories. Yet since its release, the crowdfunding film made by two independent French television producers has been viewed around 6 million times, according to French media and researchers, spreading on social media thanks to anti-mask advocates and skeptics. in terms of vaccines.

The success of the film is the latest sign of the challenges facing French health authorities as they prepare to vaccinate the world’s most skeptical population against Covid-19. It’s a skepticism that many governments around the world must overcome to varying degrees as they seek to end the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

“France has been really shaken by this problem of reluctance to vaccinate for ten years,” said Jeremy ward, sociologist at the CNRS research institute. “In the public health community, we have wondered for months how to handle this.”

The French are “the most skeptical people in the world about vaccine safety,” according to a 2018 Gallup-Wellcome Trust study of 140,000 people in 140 countries. One in three French people disagree that vaccines are safe, the highest percentage of any country, while one in five disagree on their effectiveness, the second highest.

Almost a year after the start of a pandemic that killed nearly 57,000 French people and forced two national closures, nearly half of respondents to a recent Ipsos poll said they would not get vaccinated. It was much higher than the British at 21% or the Chinese at 15%, and overtaken the Americans at 36%.

Whether the government and public health officials can overcome this mistrust will be a key test that could provide lessons for other countries looking to rapidly deploy vaccines to quench the coronavirus.

One strategy adopted by the authorities is to inject a dose of caution into their advice to the public regarding the safety of a new technology used by the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Known as Messenger RNA, the approach sees the body’s protein production mechanism altered instead of traditional vaccines’ reliance on weakened viruses to stimulate the immune response.

Soon after Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, several doctors said it was too early to declare mRNA-based shooting safe and effective.

Alain Fischer, the government’s first vaccine advisor, call for time to allow European and French regulators to complete their assessment. “We only have two to three months of perspective on the data on the safety and efficacy of these vaccines,” he said on television. “The data is also not yet complete on whether it protects against the transmission of the virus.”

“There is still a lot we don’t know about the virus. . . And we obviously do not know everything about the vaccines to come, ”French President Emmanuel Macron said on December 4.

Vaccine skepticism in France

Dr Fischer also pledged to bring together a large group of stakeholders – including family physicians, patient advocates and vaccine reluctance experts – to develop a plan for the deployment of Covid-19. A separate committee of 30 randomly selected citizens will represent the public.

According to sociologist Jeremy Ward, Dr Fischer and other experts may be trying to be transparent in order to build trust.

The country of origin of famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur, who helped discover the principles of vaccination in the 1870s, has not always been so skeptical. As recently as 2005, around 90% of French people were in favor of vaccination, said Jocelyn Raude, sociologist at EHESP, the French school of public health.

Then a “sequence of events” happened, he said. The H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 was perceived to have been mismanaged. The government has ordered millions of doses of the vaccine as concerns for its safety made headlines. The vaccination campaign organized in stadiums, tents and public buildings has turned against them. Only 8 percent of the population took the vaccine, and when the flu strain subsided, the government came under fire for wasting money.

Clémence, a 42-year-old businesswoman who lives near Paris, recalled the “bad experience” of taking her asthmatic son to be vaccinated against H1N1. “It was done in a tent and quite disorganized, and later we were told the second shot wasn’t even necessary. I’ve been suspicious ever since, ”she said.

Soon after, a diabetes drug was pulled from the market after causing thousands of deaths in the so-called Mediator scandal, raising concern about conflicts of interest and the pharmaceutical industry, according to Dr Raude.

Then, like in other countries, social media gave vaccine skeptics new ways to amplify their voices. In 2010, 40% of French people said they were suspicious of vaccines, according to studies. “Attitudes changed surprisingly quickly and reluctance to immunize remained deep,” said Dr Raude.

In 2016, Dr Fischer was given the task of holding a “citizen debate” on vaccine policy following the measles outbreaks and the drop in vaccination rates. This led France in 2018 to expand the list of compulsory vaccines for children aged three to 11, making them compulsory for those who attend public schools.

This time, however, the government will not make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory. He will rely on family physicians to encourage patients to take and administer it. “It cannot be a top order from the state,” said Dr Fischer.

Additional reporting by Domitille Alain

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