Health workers in France have expressed their hesitation
in getting vaccinated against COVID-19. News reports said around half of care home employees
in France do not want the vaccine after seeing the jab's effect on their elderly wards. One health worker in a care home called the vaccine hesitancy "a complete loss of trust," while others espoused a "wait and see" approach toward the Wuhan coronavirus shot.
Forty-eight-year-old Marie-France Boudret works in a Paris care home for the elderly. She watched a patient suffocate to death in front of her due to the effects of COVID-19 on his lungs. Because of this, Boudret hesitated to get vaccinated when her employer offered the Wuhan coronavirus jab. She told Reuters:
"I have some doubts. I prefer to wait."
Doubts toward the COVID-19 vaccine similar to that of Boudret's have been observed in other European countries. A survey conducted by German care home operator BeneVit Group in November 2020 found that only 30 percent of nursing home staff wanted to get the vaccine. Meanwhile, ProSenectute head Peter Burri said at most half of nursing staff in the medical sector were willing to get vaccinated. ProSenectute is Switzerland's biggest advocacy group for seniors.
But advocates for the elderly have said that vaccine hesitation could have disastrous consequences. They warned that if significant numbers of care home workers refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, they could transmit the Wuhan coronavirus to residents who are not vaccinated and at high risk of serious illness.
The French government has previously mulled allowing older people with pre-existing conditions to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. It warned against doing so earlier, but French health authorities reversed the decision
on March 2 – permitting people 65 years old and above to get the vaccine.
Tough conditions, low pay and pressure from the French government contribute to vaccine hesitancy
But there is a deeper reason why French health workers are expressing doubts about the vaccine, if not rejecting it. The French government recommends that health workers get immunized against COVID-19, but it has also been blamed for workers' low pay and tough working conditions. Care worker and trade union official Malika Belarbi said government inaction to the demands of care workers has led to a "complete loss of trust."
Boudret had the same sentiments, saying she felt neglected and under-appreciated by the state. Recalling the time she fought to save her patient during the first wave of infections, she said her efforts were a losing endeavor due to short-staffing and equipment problems. Two more patients under her care later died. "That day, I broke. It was the last straw," she commented. Boudret contracted COVID-19 since then. It made her sick for a couple of days, but she has fully recovered from the illness. (Related: 33 elderly people dead after first dose of coronavirus vaccine
Staff at the care home where Boudret works, located in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt in the French capital, were offered vaccination appointments. However, she opted out as she was not in a high risk group. The care home nurse continued that there had been insufficient time to properly assess the COVID-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, 66-year-old care home activity coordinator Marie-Dominique Chastel declined the jab. The care home staff member said her own immune system could fight off COVID-19. But Chastel added that some relatives of residents in the care home at Clamart, located south of Paris, had asked when she was going to get vaccinated. The staff member said she was "going to wait a bit" before doing so. (Related: Coronavirus outbreak ensues following vaccination of residents at nursing home
Despite care workers hesitating to get vaccinated, Paris has not considered it a cause for concern. French National Institute for Health and Medical Research
Research Director Patrick Peretti-Watel said the number of care home workers turning down the COVID-19 jab has dropped to half compared from December 2020. He added that convincing more health workers to get vaccinated would require more than addressing the issues surrounding pay and working conditions. "It's a question of winning [their] trust," he said.
to read more about the risks of COVID-19 vaccination on the elderly and care home workers.