The European country where only 40% will take a COVID vaccine

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
TOPSHOT - Mauricette, a French 78-year-old woman, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Rene-Muret hospital in Sevran, on the outskirts of Paris, on December 27, 2020. - Mauricette was the first person who received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in France against Covid-19, as countries of the European Union began a vaccine rollout. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / various sources / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Mauricette, a 78-year-old French woman, was the first person to receive a dose of the COVID vaccine in the country on 27 December. Since then, France's rollout has been slow – and polls indicate only 40% would take one. (Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK’s coronavirus vaccine rollout has, by most accounts, started relatively smoothly.

The government has a programme to vaccinate nearly 14 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February.

According to the Our World in Data website, Britain has so far administered the fourth most vaccines per 100 people in the world, as this chart demonstrates…

What is more, a majority of Britons appear happy to take them. In a YouGov poll one month ago, 4,303 adults were asked if they were confident in the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. Of these, 68% were confident, as opposed to 23% who were not confident.

So, the UK has made a positive start. Across the Channel in France, however, it’s a different story.

As the chart above shows, just 0.07 vaccines have been administered per 100 people in France, with the government under huge pressure after making a very slow start in rolling out its vaccination programme.

Its first doses had been restricted to care home residents, followed by key workers. It will only become available to over-75s later this month.

Having said that, authorities will face another huge obstacle over the coming months – as French people are among the most sceptical in the world towards the vaccine.

Watch: How does the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine work?

According to a poll released by Ipsos and the World Economic Forum last week, in which 13,542 adults from 15 different countries had been surveyed, only 40% of people in France intend to get vaccinated.

This was the lowest of the 15 countries, with China top at 80%. Intention to get vaccinated in the UK was 77%, the third highest on the list.

Fear of the vaccine’s side effects was the most-cited reason (72%) given by those French respondents who would not take it.

The UK’s NHS lists possible “mild” side effects, lasting no longer than a week, such as a sore arm where the needle went in, feeling tired, having headaches, feeling achy or feeling sick.

As well as concerns over side effects, however, France also has a complicated recent history with vaccines.

A medical staff receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on January 8, 2021 at the Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest, western France during a vaccination operation of the medical staff against the Covid-19 disease. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP) (Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical worker receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Brest, western France, on Friday. (Fred Tanneau/AFP via Getty Images)

Jocelyn Raude, a psychologist and infectious diseases expert, told Yahoo France in November that this dates back to the late 1990s and debates over the hepatitis B vaccine.

Raude also pointed to 2009, when the French government ordered 90 million doses of a flu vaccine, 20 million of which were eventually destroyed. This, Raude said, “led to a whole discourse on the misuse of public funds”.

Meanwhile, the French government’s overall handling of the pandemic – like the UK’s – has been called into question. France has the third highest COVID death toll in Europe, while the UK has the highest.

And Florian Cafiero, a sociologist at the National Centre for Scientific Research, told the BBC on Friday of France’s situation: “The current government generated a huge amount of distrust over its management of the COVID crisis – and that's reflected towards the vaccine.”

While many countries we face their own unique challenges when posed with such a huge vaccination programme, it seems the French government has to win over hearts and minds in addition.

For more information, go to the The World Health Organization’s Vaccines and immunization: Myths and misconceptions section.

Watch: What is long COVID?