Vaccination: The French way

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

As Europe struggles to cope with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic which the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said could worsen with almost five times as many new cases by Aug. 1, more governments are imposing stricter restrictions and making vaccination compulsory for adults and health care workers in both private and public sectors.

In a televised address this week, French president Emmanuel Macron imposed a Sept. 15 deadline for all health care workers and those working in retirement homes to be inoculated. Additionally, French Health Minister Olivier Veran also said health workers who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the Sept. 15 deadline will be suspended from work with no pay.

While France has not decided on making vaccination mandatory for the general population, the new rules now require people to present a health pass or a QR code showing that they have either been vaccinated or have had a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test recently before they can board long-distance trains or airplanes, permitted to enter restaurants, cinemas and theaters, allowed to attend large-scale events or go to clubs starting August.

Macron also announced that COVID-19 tests will no longer be free except for those with a medical prescription, saying in no uncertain terms that all these measures are meant to encourage vaccination. “Depending on the situation, no doubt we will have to ask ourselves the question of mandatory vaccination for all the French,” he said.

France has already experienced three waves of COVID-19 infections with over 5,800,000 cases and more than 111,000 deaths recorded, and President Macron firmly believes that the only way towards recovery and a return to normal life is for all French people to be vaccinated, as the daily vaccination rate has seen a significant reduction from a high of 400,000 in May to just 165,000 per day.

“Our choice is simple: to enforce restrictions on those who are not vaccinated rather than on everyone,” the French president stated, emphasizing that getting vaccinated is “a matter of individual responsibility… but also a matter of [collective] freedom,” as failure to act will mean a continued increase in the number of cases, especially with the more transmissible Delta variant.

While some citizens including health care workers are angry at the new rules, it seems that Macron’s announcement had the desired effect, as a record number of people – more than one million in fact – rushed to book COVID-19 vaccination schedules after the announcement, causing a centralized vaccination app to crash. The French may resent the vaccination mandate, but they obviously know it’s the only way for them to get back to a semblance of normalcy. Many others welcome Macron’s announcement, saying vaccination makes them feel safer.

Actually, several countries are already making vaccination mandatory for health care workers and other high-risk groups. Proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result are also being required for those who wish to dine out or go to indoor establishments. Even the UK that is loosening restrictions has passed a law requiring homecare workers to be vaccinated by October.

In fact, Italy was ahead in imposing mandatory vaccinations for health workers, including pharmacists, or else they will be suspended without pay until yearend. As early as May, Saudi Arabia has announced what is being described as a “no jabs, no jobs” policy requiring workers in both the public and private sectors to be vaccinated before they can return to work.

In the US, cases are increasing in 46 states, with a big majority of new infections, death and hospitalization having one common denominator: They are occurring among unvaccinated people. According to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, over 99 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in June were among unvaccinated individuals. Case rates in communities with below 50 percent vaccination are also three times higher than in places where over half of the population have been fully vaccinated. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she said.

Anti-vaxxers argue that governments have no right to impose vaccination or compel people to wear masks because it infringes on freedom of choice. Many, however, believe that when personal choice endangers the life of others and puts the welfare of the public at risk, governments should pass laws that make vaccination and other restrictions compulsory. In fact, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for making an “error in judgment” in easing restrictions in June because cases are spiking again.

Hardheaded people who refuse to wear masks, defy quarantine protocols, put false information in contract tracing forms and refuse to get vaccinated are like suicide bombers carrying a ticking coronavirus time bomb that could get themselves and others killed in the process.

We’re so glad to see our country doing fairly well, with cases expected to decrease as the vaccination rollout goes faster. We will not stop pushing for the delivery of more vaccines from the United States – all of which are proven to be the most effective in fighting even the new Delta variant.

No one is safe unless everyone is safe – so all countries must cooperate to contain this pandemic, especially with the emergence of new variants that may be more lethal and transmissible than the original strain. There is no doubt that vaccination is the only way to control the virus. All the more it is important to form an effective universal body to draw up policy and standardize protocols, including quarantine restrictions, to prevent another catastrophe like this – which has not only killed millions of people but also destroyed economies and brought countries down on their knees – from happening again.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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