France: mandatory vaccination for caregivers ‘risks destabilising health structures’, nursing union says

"From September 15th onwards, if you are a caregiver and you are not vaccinated, you can no longer work and you will no longer be paid," Health Minister Olivier Véran said on LCI. [Spotmatik Ltd/Shutterstock]

From Wednesday (15 September) on, health institutions staff in France will have to present a vaccination certificate to be allowed to practise. But the move is perceived as a threat by the already understaffed medical and paramedical branch.

On July 12th, faced with the progression of the Delta variant, President Emmanuel Macron announced a series of measures to fight against a new spike of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Among these measures is the mandatory vaccination of all health professionals by the beginning of the school year. “Controls will be carried out and sanctions taken if necessary,” the head of state had specified before the summer break.

“From September 15, if you are a caregiver and you are not vaccinated, you can no longer work and you will no longer be paid,” Health Minister Olivier Véran added the same day on LCI.

Caregivers, firefighters, paramedics, home care workers and all staff working in health facilities are required to have received at least a first dose of vaccine by now (or present a certificate of recovery or a certificate of contraindication) to be able to go to work.

The National Union of Nursing Professionals (SNPI) fears that this measure will destabilise a sector already suffering from a lack of personnel.

“10% of nursing positions are currently vacant in hospitals. In nursing homes, the number of staff is even lower. There are few nurses and few caregivers. This risks destabilizing the health structures,” warned Thierry Amouroux, the union’s spokesperson, contacted by EURACTIV France.

“For us, this is the tree that hides the forest,” he said.

For now, it is impossible to know how many professionals will not be able to work as of today.

According to Santé Publique France, as of May 20, 2021, 91% of caregivers were vaccinated. Even though this figure is rather positive, it is especially the administrative staff that will be more difficult to convince, according to Amouroux.

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“They haven’t had any training in vaccination or public health. On the other hand, as these are places where we are understaffed, it is difficult to organise a meeting in the field between health professionals and this health personnel,” he explained.

For the caregivers, vaccination is seen as a “moral imperative” to protect “the most fragile patients”, the SNPI spokesman stressed.

But Amouroux also specified that this is not a justification of mandatory vaccination, neither among caregivers nor in the population. “We are following the World Health Organisation’s logic, which is to convince rather than to force,” he said.

On the other hand, the government’s communication to encourage health professionals to get vaccinated has not been particularly well received. “We went from heroes to pariahs. We felt like we were somewhat instrumentalised to push the idea of mandatory vaccination,” said Amouroux.

“Many caregivers were shocked by the rather accusatory tone of the government’s discourse, which does not reflect the reality”, he said, adding that the majority of health professionals were already vaccinated at the time of Macron’s announcements on 12 July.

“When you are a health professional, you are not against vaccination, otherwise it would mean something has gone wrong,” he concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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