Across the Atlantic, in France, it is a gamble that is beginning to bear fruit.
Despite a slow start to its vaccination rollout earlier this year, fueled by supply chain issues that culminated in a deadly public battle with AstraZeneca over delivery shortages and blood clot issues, France has finally launched its program in the spring. In May, the country reached its goal of partially immunizing 20 million people, or 30% of its population. But then he quickly started hitting a wall.
In July, as the vaccination rate in France stagnated and coronavirus cases increased, French President Emmanuel Macron imposed sweeping vaccination requirements for much of daily life.
As of August 1, anyone without a “health pass” showing proof of their vaccination status or a recent negative test, would not be able to enter bars and cafes, or travel long distances by train, Macron said. Health workers – a group of around 2.7 million people in France – who are not vaccinated on Wednesday, risk being made redundant or suspended without pay.
Macron’s decision was a calculated risk in a country where a deep cultural belief in individual freedoms and mistrust of government manifested in reluctance to vaccinate.
“Clearly, Emmanuel Macron took a risk,” said Bruno Cautres, political scientist at the Center for Political Studies of Sciences Po in Paris.
“He took the risk of saying that I’m going to make the life of the unvaccinated very difficult, which is a very, very, very dangerous statement for an executive.”
As the proposal was passed on to French lawmakers, protesters began to demonstrate every week against the health pass. On July 31, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of France, a mixture of opponents of the health pass and its restrictions on freedoms, and people reluctant to be fully vaccinated.
Yet despite all the noise, many more French people were voting with their feet in favor of the pass and stretching out their arms. The same day, 532,000 people were vaccinated, according to the French Ministry of Health.
Despite some opposition at first, Macron’s risk appears to be reaping significant rewards.
Immediately after Macron’s speech on July 12, there was an increase in vaccination appointments in France. Doctolib, the main jab booking platform in the country, recorded 1 million appointments made in 24 hours. Thanks in part to its rising vaccination rate – as well as a massive increase in tests related to the Covid pass and the reintroduction of mask warrants in regions hard hit by the Delta variant – metropolitan France has managed to largely bypass the fourth wave that swept across Europe and the United States.
A month after the start of France’s new health card scheme, data from the country’s health agency shows an overall decline in hospital and intensive care admissions since the summer highs. And while public health experts wait to see if the decline continues, many are cautiously optimistic.
“Within a few minutes of the [Macron’s] announcement, the number of reservations to be vaccinated has reached a record. And this also continued the following days. And what we are seeing now is that they continue to increase, “Vittoria Colliza, Paris-based epidemiologist at Inserm, the French public health research center, told CNN in a telephone interview. in August.
“I think in terms of incentives it really works. And the health pass itself also has a second effect … limiting the risk of contact in our daily social life, so that should have an effect in terms of number of cases. “
Now the United States is looking to replicate some of France’s success.
President Biden last Thursday imposed tough new vaccine rules on most federal workers, healthcare workers, and businesses with 100 or more employees. Announcing the move, which could affect up to 100 million Americans, Biden expressed his frustration with the unvaccinated. “We have been patient, but our patience is running out and your refusal has cost us all,” he said, acknowledging that the new steps would not provide a quick fix.
The warrants represent a significant change of course for the Biden administration, which had previously tried to avoid widespread vaccine requirements. In the United States, mandates for masks and vaccines have mostly been left to local authorities. But, as U.S. vaccination efforts have stalled in recent months, the administration has begun to adopt more coercive measures to get shot. In late July, Biden announced that all federal employees and contractors would be required to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
Heidi Larson, founder of the Vaccine Confidence Project, agrees that government coercion is not necessarily a silver bullet to converting the unvaccinated.
“In the end, he [mandates] increases adoption, but for hesitant people, things like that make them even angrier. They dig their heels even more, ”Larson said.
“We did national research with a lot of people in the UK and got into the whole issue of the vaccine passport, and it was good for people who were pro-vaccine and accepted it, but for people who were hesitant, it made them even more hesitant and more likely to refuse if they felt like they were being told they had to do it, or that it was a moral responsibility. “
For those reluctant to receive newly developed vaccines, broader action to encourage adoption is needed, experts say. The information was “not very clear” on the vaccines, said Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist at the Gustave Roussy Institute in Paris. “There have been a lot of fake news rumors about the trials,” she said.
Before the new law, the French government attempted to increase vaccination rates through public health incentives and appeals – an effort they continued as the health pass rolled out. .
“Get vaccinated if you love your loved ones, friends, brothers, sisters and parents,” Macron said on Instagram, “because by getting vaccinated you are protecting them too.”
The communications overhaul has coincided with a push to make vaccines more readily available. Seaside appointments have been opened for people on vacation and walk-in sessions have started, which epidemiologist Hill credits for helping to turn Covid-19 back to France.
“This [mandates] was really a paradigm shift, ”Colliza said. “If you think about the vaccine hesitation and how the authorities tried to deal with it, at first it was really a lot of pressure on the explanations, on the communication, and the goal was really not to. to oblige people, but to convince them. And at some point, given the very high circulation of the Delta variant in several EU countries, authorities are moving towards something a little more restrictive. “
The final phase of the Macron law on the health pass enters into force this week, with the entry into force of the mandate on health workers.
Since August 30, workers in contact with the public, as well as customers, of establishments governed by the law are required to present a health record to enter the premises. In France, nearly 1.8 million workers fall under this extension.
Anaïs Majdoubi, a 27-year-old employee of an escape game company in Paris, initially hesitated to be vaccinated. She used to take a Covid-19 test every three days to show her boss, a strategy that proved impractical when the French government approved the health pass law in August. She was reluctantly given the vaccine, but fears what it means for those who still resist vaccination.
“I think we just have to be careful of people who are not vaccinated, not to treat them differently,” said Majdoubi.
“We shouldn’t point fingers at them.”
Eliza Mackintosh of CNN has written and reported from London, England, and Joseph Ataman, Saskya Vandoorne and Melissa Bell from Paris, France.