By Caroline Pailliez
HERBLAY-SUR-SEINE, France, December 11 (Reuters) – Boris Czajka knows how dangerous the coronavirus is. His wife Steffie suffered from an infection for months, and at the peak of her illness she went to bed not knowing if she would survive the night.
Still, Czajka has no intention of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
You are not alone. France is home to more “anti-vaccines” than almost any other country in the world. More than half the population say they will not be vaccinated against it, or probably not, surveys show.
Czajka said big drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna rushed to deliver their vaccines too quickly.
“The disease does not take long. It takes years to develop a vaccine and there, as if by magic, there is a vaccine for everyone,” said Czajka, a 32-year-old taxi driver who lives in Paris. Herblay-sur-Seine suburb.
The French people have a deep-seated distrust of the state, suspicious of multinational pharmaceutical companies, and marked by past public health scandals.
Czajka said she lost her faith in vaccines after a colleague’s sister died shortly after receiving a hepatitis injection. The vaccine was the cause, he said, although Reuters was not shown evidence to prove it.
Even in a previous job for an undertaker, Czajka refused to get vaccinated against hepatitis, preferring to wear an extra pair of gloves and breathe less when handling bodies that could pose a risk, he said.
“The more (the government) pushes me to vaccinate, the less likely I am to do so,” Czajka said, acknowledging that he is overweight and suffers from underlying health problems.
“I really don’t trust them.”
The World Health Organization has stressed the importance of carrying out rigorous controls on the efficacy and safety of vaccines. And according to published vaccine trial data generated so far this year by Moderna, the BioNTech-Pfizer association and AstraZeneca, the side effects have not been severe or long-lasting.
However, many unsubstantiated claims have spread across the internet.
There is a strong correlation between trust in government and willingness to get vaccinated, said Antoine Bristielle, a researcher at the Jean Jaures Foundation.
France’s deep mistrust of the political class was a “French peculiarity not found in other European countries,” he said.
An IPSOS survey of 15 countries published on November 5 showed that 54% of French people would have a COVID vaccine if one was available. The figure was 64% in Italy and Spain, 79% in Great Britain and 87% in China.
A subsequent IFOP survey, which had no comparative data for other countries, showed that 41% of people in France would take the vaccine.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has urged the French to get vaccinated. It was, he said, an act of altruism necessary to protect others.
“Fear of the vaccine will not stop the virus,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told a press conference, striving to persuade citizens that the European Union was rigorous in its approval process and would not rush to throw no vaccine.
Veran offered assurances about the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, citing the New England Journal of Medicine.
“There were no serious or long-lasting effects in the 40,000 people evaluated in the third phase of the trial,” he said.
COVID-19 vaccines in France will be free for everyone, and the first injections are expected to be available from early to mid-January. Nursing home residents and their caregivers will be the first to take the hit, before a wider distribution in March.
The Institut Pasteur, one of France’s leading scientific research centers, estimates that herd immunity would require that at least 60-70% of the population have immunity to break the chain of infections.
But public confidence in medicine in France has been undermined by past scandals, including the suspension of a hepatitis B vaccination program in schools in 1998 after concerns of a link to multiple sclerosis cases.
Alois Lokange, a senior manager at a French technology services company, said he had lost three close acquaintances to the coronavirus. Still, he was undecided about the mass vaccination program.
“I don’t want to panic,” he said.
(Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; written by Richard Lough; edited by Angus MacSwan)
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