Why are so many French people rejecting the coronavirus vaccine?

By Natasha Dangoor

FOR MANY, the vaccine rollout is a desperately needed sign of hope.

Yet as many around the world wait for their much anticipated vaccine invitation with impatience, just 56 per cent of French people say they will take the vaccine, according to an Odoxa-Backbone survey.

Historically, France had largely been a pro-vaccine country. The famous work of French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur contributed to the historic national pride of the country.

Unlike in many other countries, the vaccine was considered one of France’s national treasures. But this has now been undone. The number of French people who are choosing not to be vaccinated has plateaued and will doubtfully decrease.

Though difficult to determine whether a certain demographic is more likely to be anti-vaccine than another, studies have shown that women are less likely to get the vaccine than men.

Professor Jocelyn Raude, lecturer and researcher in social psychology at the École des hautes études en santé publique (EHESP), told Redaction Politics that from a psychological perspective, “it is not uncommon for women in developed countries to be more reluctant than men when it comes to technological risks such as GMOs and radio frequencies.”

Raude affirmed that the anti-vaccine attitude is also common among people in higher education, living in cities and working in the field of alternative medicine such as homeopathy or acupuncture.

He added: “What is most ironic, he added, is the number of paramedics and nurses who are anti-vaccine given their more holistic vision of health compared to the more conventional vision of regular doctors.” In his study, Raude found that 90 per cent of doctors wished to be vaccinated against Covid-19 versus only 50 per cent of nurses.

Aside from the fear of side effects, the reasons why the French don’t want to be vaccinated boil down to various factors. Most notable is perhaps the stereotypical, cultural tendency for French people to be discontent with their government.

Whilst some French people readily admit to this, some are easily offended when their country is labelled as “un pays de grèves” (a country of strikes). According to Raude’s research, this loss in confidence in health authorities can in part be attributed to the belief that the government lied about the effectiveness of masks in order to hide shortages.

France was in fact one of the two countries that respected coronavirus restrictions the most, staying home even when it wasn’t compulsory. Paradoxically, many are unwilling to put their trust in the government who advise taking the vaccine.

Trust is difficult to acquire. It takes time and effort. But it is very easy to lose, and it will take a lot for France’s trust in their government to be restored. Raude refers to the psychological “spill over effect” by which it is difficult to have a majority of people change their mind once they are set in their ways.

Among many conspiracy theorist ideologies that have dissipated over the past year is the 2020 film Hold-up, directed by French conspiracy theorist Pierre Barnérias which made numerous false claims about the pandemic. It was a huge success, watched by over ten million in France.

Unsurprisingly, this contributed to the number of anti-vaccine people in France. This documentary in particular also triggered a huge polarisation of those who either hadn’t yet formed an opinion on the vaccine or whose opinions lay at neither extreme.

As with everything, social media plays a significant role in the spread of conspiracy theories and extremism, both of which are central to the vaccine discussion. It is no coincidence that by searching the words ‘vaccine’ or ‘vaccination’ into Google.fr, the first search results tend to be articles or websites that are anti-vaccine rather than institutional medical sites.

Many people are questioning why the UK is so far ahead of Europe with the vaccine roll-out, and this question can in part be addressed with regard to differing attitudes and approaches.

Politically motivated or not, this decision to resist the jab made by thousands is a statement of scepticism, but such choices could have the potential to be shifted with the right amount of influence.

Natasha Dangoor is a freelance journalist studying at Cambridge University. She is interested in world news and has written for publications including The Telegraph. Find her on Twitter @natasha_dangoor

Featured Image: Pixabay

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