About 3,000 health workers have been suspended without pay in France for not taking the Covid vaccine.
Health minister, Olivier Véran, said the authorities had written to the staff explaining that they needed at least one dose by 15 September. He said that several dozen workers had resigned rather than have the vaccine.
Santé Publique, the French health authority, believes that less than 12% of hospital staff and about 6% of doctors in private practice have not yet been vaccinated.
President Emmanuel Macron in July told staff in hospitals, retirement and care homes as well as those in the fire service they had until Wednesday this week to be partially or fully vaccinated.
Véran told RTL radio: “A large number of these suspensions will be temporary. They involved mostly personnel in support service, like those working in laundry or food preparation.” He said very few nurses had not had the vaccine.
“Many of them have decided to get vaccinated now the obligation to do so has become a reality,” he added.
Véran said he was satisfied that making the vaccine obligatory for certain French workers had succeeded. “It’s just the first day but there was no chaos, far from it, and the numbers of those who are vaccinated in hospitals and care homes is far, far higher than it would have been if the vaccine had not been made obligatory.”
He said most of the medical staff federations and orders had been consulted and had approved making the vaccine compulsory for health workers.
The country’s ambulance service, however, was said to be particularly stretched at the moment because, according to Thierry Schifano, the president of the Fédération Nationale de la Mobilité Sanitaire, 13% of ambulance and health vehicle drivers were not vaccinated and were refusing to plan having a jab. “We risk real difficulties with a break in patients’ treatment and an increase in ambulance shortages,” he said. “We have to find way of working in reduced conditions for a short while.”
Also, despite a vaccine take-up rate of 80%, a group of 100 firefighters have lodged a second complaint with the European Court of Human Rights after their first was refused at the end of last month.
Vaccine take-up has been slower in the south of France than in other regions: 450 staff have been suspended at a Nice hospital, 100 at Perpignan, 76 at Brest, and dozens in other big towns and cities. In Paris public hospitals, 340 employees had been suspended.
As of this week, just under 47 million French people aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, representing 81.4% of the population; 86.1% have received at least one jab. In the UK, the figure is 89% of over-16s, with vaccinations of 12-15 year olds starting at the end of this month.
In England and Wales, about 8% of the NHS workforce – about 116,000 workers – has not had a jab according to figures from a variety of sources. The government is consulting over requiring doctors and nurses’ vaccinations, but care home staff had until 16 September to receive at least one dose of the vaccine.
France is currently experiencing far fewer new cases of Covid than the UK with about 8,000 new cases a day as opposed to more than 25,000 in England, Wales, NI and Scotland. Between the 3rd and 16th of September there were 476,000 cases in the UK and 135,000 in France. The countries have similar population sizes – 67 million in France, 66 million in UK.
Véran said: “The epidemic is not over but we are reducing it with cases down 30% in a week, so we’re going in the right direction and we have to keep doing so.
“Nine of 10 people in France eligible to be vaccinated have been vaccinated. We are today one of the most vaccinated countries in the world … the more we vaccinate the better chance we have of getting out of this.”