France could suspend up to 300,000 health care workers for not being vaccinated as the country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate begins Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
All medical care, home care and emergency workers in France must be vaccinated against COVID-19, with Wednesday as the deadline for workers to have received at least one shot. Unvaccinated workers may be suspended from working or have their pay suspended, but a top court has forbidden firing them.
More than 90 percent of the France’s health care workers are vaccinated, meaning about 300,000 remain unvaccinated, government officials said. Polls also suggest a majority of people support vaccine mandates for medical staff.
“It’s aimed at one thing: protecting hospitals, protecting health care workers, protecting our fragile populations,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said. “We are not stigmatizing anyone. We are making everyone take responsibility.”
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
The mandate was approved by France’s parliament over the summer to protect patients and the public from new surges of COVID-19. More than 113,000 people with the virus have died in France, and health authorities say most of those hospitalized in the most recent surge weren’t vaccinated.
While 83 percent of French adults are fully vaccinated, a small, vocal minority of people are opposed to the coronavirus vaccines, including some health care workers.
Many cite incorrect information about the vaccines circulating online, worry about their long-term effects or want more time to decide. Others are angry at President Emmanuel Macron‘s government and the mandate, not the vaccines themselves.
Since some hospitals are already facing strains after a year and half of fighting the pandemic and catching up on other treatments, some who oppose the vaccine requirement fear staff shortages could spell disaster.
“We are raising the alarm…if you insist on implementing this measure your beds will be closed, thus reducing chances (of survival) for a number of patients,” said Christophe Prudhomme, emergency room doctor and CGT union member, at a protest outside the Health Ministry on Tuesday.
If health care workers have had only one dose so far, they have to take a virus test every three days until they have completed the second one. October 15 is the legal deadline for both vaccines to have been completed.
Firms and employers failing to verify the vaccination statuses of their staff are liable for a 135 euro ($160) fine that can rise to 3,750 euros ($4,430) for repeated failure.
“I am not a revolutionary, I am just afraid and we are thousands in this situation. I want them to listen to us and sit and talk around a table,” said Rachid Ouchem, a medical-psychological assistant at a hospital in Plaisir west of Paris who doesn’t want to be vaccinated and is facing suspension.
“We can’t decide ourselves, we have doubts,” he told AP. “We had politicians saying one thing and its opposite.”
Scientists note that the vaccines used in France were tested widely and the data shared publicly. Worldwide, 5.7 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered so far, providing a exceptionally broad overview of vaccines’ impact on people’s health.
The vaccine mandate and France’s “health pass” system required for restaurants and other venues have prompted two months of weekly protests by far-right activists and some other groups. They also spurred a spike in vaccinations through the summer, though the pace has slowed this month.
While French Polynesia is suffering the country’s worst outbreak so far, France’s South Pacific territory of New Caledonia has ordered obligatory vaccinations for the whole population to try to avoid a similar fate.