20 September 2021
Health care workers in France now face suspension from their jobs if they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, say new rules that went into effect Wednesday, September 15. With as many as 300,000 workers still not vaccinated, some hospitals fear employee shortages will add to their difficulties.
Vaccines are now required for those who work in medical care and home care as well as for all emergency workers in France. They face having pay suspended or being banned from the workplace, but they cannot be fired, a court ruled.
The court order was approved by France's parliament over the summer to protect patients and the public from new variants of COVID-19. More than 113,000 people have died from the virus in France. Health officials say most of those hospitalized most recently have not been vaccinated.
"It's aimed at one thing: protecting hospitals, protecting health care workers, protecting our fragile populations," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday. "We are not stigmatizing anyone. We are making everyone take responsibility."
Attal said more than 90 percent of French health care workers are vaccinated. He added that the numbers suggest most people support the vaccine order for medical staff. The government health division said last Tuesday that about 300,000 health workers remained unvaccinated.
About 83 percent of French adults are fully vaccinated. However, a small, vocal minority of people are opposed to the coronavirus vaccines. This includes some health care workers.
Many of those who are not vaccinated seem to have based their decision on untrue information they read online. They worry about the long-term effects of the vaccine or want more time to decide. Many have refused the vaccine because they are angry at President Emmanuel Macron's government and the order. They say they are not afraid of the vaccine.
Some hospitals are already facing difficulties after a year and half of fighting the pandemic and catching up on other treatments. So, some fear employee shortages could mean disaster, if the unvaccinated are removed from their health care jobs.
Christophe Prudhomme is an emergency room doctor and a CGT union member, one of the largest labor unions in France. He said at a protest outside the Health Ministry last Tuesday, "We are raising the alarm..." He said if the measure is enforced, some hospitals will be forced to shut down a lot of rooms due to a shortage of trained workers. This would reduce the chances of survival for many patients with COVID-19 and other illnesses.
If health care workers have had only one shot 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 shots to be completed.
Companies and employers that fail to ensure their workers are vaccinated will be hit with a $160 fine that can rise to $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. He works at a hospital near Paris, and he does not want to be vaccinated. He is facing suspension.
"We can't decide ourselves, we have doubts," he told The Associated Press. "We had politicians saying one thing and it's opposite."
Scientists note that the vaccines used in France were tested widely and the information shared publicly. Around the world, 5.7 billion coronavirus vaccine shots have been administered so far. This provides a large picture of the vaccine's effect on people's health.
The vaccine order and France's "health pass" system required for restaurants and other public events have started two months of weekly protests by far-right activists and some other groups. They also created an increase in vaccinations through the summer, though the rate has slowed this month.
French Polynesia, a group of islands in the Pacific, is suffering the country's worst outbreak so far. France's South Pacific territory of New Caledonia has ordered required vaccinations for the whole population to try to avoid a similar outbreak.
I'm Gregory Stachel. And I'm Jill Robbins.
Oleg Cetinic and Thomas Adamson reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
fragile – adj. not strong
stigmatize – v. to describe or regard (something, such as a characteristic or group of people) in a way that shows strong disapproval
union – v. an organization of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of its members
raise the alarm – phr. v. people are warning about a possible problem or danger
revolutionary – adj. causing or relating to a great or complete change
doubts – n. a feeling of being uncertain or unsure about something