Behind the scenes

France’s Covid vaccine rollout flounders amid anti-vax backlash

Just 516 people given Pfizer jab in first week of mass vaccination scheme as doctors face bureaucratic chaos

Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to speed up France’s rollout of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine amid widespread public scepticism about the jabs.

The government in Paris made a deliberately slow start to its inoculation programme as officials launch a drive “to counter fears that the state is forcing a dangerous vaccine on to the people”, reports The Times.

Only 516 people in France were inoculated against the coronavirus in the first six days after the EU kicked off a coordinated vaccination push on 27 December. By contrast, the UK vaccinated more than 130,000 people in the week after the country rolled out the Pfizer jabs earlier in December - a tally that has now risen to more than a million.

France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran insisted today that his country’s rollout would hit “cruising speed” to “catch up with our neighbours in the coming days”.

But the push faces a number of obstacles.

Poll suggest the French people are among the most vaccine-sceptical in Europe. In a survey of more than 1,000 French adults conducted last month by research firm Ifop, only 39% of the respondents said they intended to get vaccinated against Covid-19 when they had the chance.

Anti-vax messaging has been spread by a number of French groups including the Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protest movement that began in 2018.

In a bid to combat these claims, Macron has formed a 35-person “citizens council” to advise the government on the inoculation plan. But the council has been criticised for comprising a randomly selected sample of the population, rather than drawing on expert opinion.

Rampant bureaucracy has also slowed France’s jab campaign. 

Nicolas Beytout, head of French news site L’Opinion, says the country “is stifled by its rules and regulations”. He points out that French doctors were initially expected to follow a 45-page protocol to brief patients on the implications of being vaccinated.

And “only a doctor or a nurse under the direct supervision of a doctor” is currently allowed to administer the injection, France 24 adds.

However, Veran has said that those rules will be eased. The pledge comes after President Macron, “who recovered from Covid-19 over Christmas, cracked the whip on Sunday, ordering rapid progress”, The Times reports. 

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