LONDON — President Emmanuel Macron once said vaccination against Covid-19 would not be compulsory, but French lawmakers are now preparing a new law that would effectively force health care workers to get their shot.
The debate comes amid concerns over low vaccination rates among health care professionals in the country. So far, only 57% of care workers in nursing homes and 64% of hospital staff have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to data shared by the French Hospital Federation.
“We are not speaking about a mandatory vaccination for all the people in France. We are just speaking about a mandatory vaccination for people working in the healthcare and which are in contact with the most fragile people in France,” Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, told CNBC on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a question of responsibility and having a mandatory vaccination for the people which are, every day, in contact with the most fragile people among the French population, I really think that it would be a wise decision,” Le Maire added.
Other members of the French government have expressed their support for the plan, namely the country’s health minister, Olivier Véran. The French Hospital Federation has also supported compulsory vaccination for the sector.
Italy decided to impose compulsory vaccinations for health care professionals in April and the U.K. also said in June that staff in care homes would also have to receive a Covid shot. However, the issue seems slightly trickier in France given it has one of the highest vaccine skepticism rates in Europe. Almost 30% of French citizens said it would be “very unlikely” that they would get a Covid vaccine, according to a poll released by Eurofound. In contrast, the same survey showed that around 64% of people living in Europe said it would be “very likely” or “rather likely” to get a shot.
Nonetheless, 51% of the total population in France have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 shot, according to Our World in Data. This is only marginally below the EU’s rate, but about 15 percentage points lower than the U.K.’s current inoculation rate.
Stepping up vaccination has become even more pressing in recent weeks amid concerns over new Covid mutations, and a surge in infections caused by the delta variant.
The French government even warned earlier this week about the possibility of a fourth wave of cases in late July.
“For five days, the virus (infections) is not coming down, but going up due to the delta variant, which is very contagious. The English example shows that another wave is possible from the end of July,” Véran said over the weekend, according to CNBC translation.
This could become another economic headache for France, which is currently projecting a GDP rate of about 5% for 2021.
“The single thing that might jeopardize the economic recovery in France is a new wave of the pandemic,” Le Maire told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick on Tuesday.
France has lifted several social restrictions in recent weeks, including the need for face masks outside and a late-night curfew.
Macron is due to address the nation on the subject in the coming days.