PARIS (Reuters) – Marie-France Boudret, who works in a French home for the elderly, watched a patient suffocate to death in front of her because COVID-19 had infected his lungs. But when her employer offered her a vaccine against the virus, the nurse hesitated.
“I have some doubts,” said Boudret, 48. “I prefer to wait.”
Around half of health workers in French care homes do not want to be vaccinated, according to the group of experts guiding the state’s vaccine rollout – compared to only 20% of the residents who have not been inoculated.
If significant numbers of care home workers do not get the jab, they could transmit the disease to residents who are not vaccinated and at high risk of serious illness, say advocates for the elderly.
One reason for the scepticism is that those recommending the vaccine are the same people – the French state – whom care home workers blame for their low pay and tough working conditions, said Malika Belarbi, a care worker and trade union official.
“There’s a complete loss of trust,” she said.
The issue is not unique to France.
In Germany, care home operator BeneVit Group surveyed staff in November and found only 30% wanted to get vaccinated.
Peter Burri, head of ProSenectute, Switzerland’s biggest advocacy group for seniors, said at most half of nursing staff in the medical sector were willing to get inoculated.
GETTING THE JAB?
At a care home in Clamart, south of Paris, on Monday, 66-year-old Marie-Dominique Chastel was playing a parlour game with residents. Chastel, an activity coordinator at the home, declined the jab because she said her own immune system could fight off COVID-19.
She said some relatives of residents had asked if she was going to get vaccinated. “My response was: ‘I’m going to wait a bit’,” she said.
Boudret, the care home nurse, recalled fighting in vain to save her patient during the first wave of the virus. The same day two more of her patients died.
“That day, I broke. It was the last straw,” she said. She said she felt neglected and under-appreciated by the state, citing short-staffing and problems with equipment.
Since then, she has had COVID-19. She was unwell for a couple of days, but is now fully recovered.
Staff at her care home, in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, were offered appointments to get the vaccine.
Boudret said she was not in a high-risk group and felt there had not been time to properly assess the jab.
Regulators around the world have repeatedly said speed will not compromise safety and vaccine developers have said they will not cut corners in testing for safety and efficacy.
The quicker results have stemmed from conducting in parallel trials that are usually done in sequence and can take years.
Trials for the shots developed by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have shown only temporary side-effects.
France’s state drug safety watchdog has said the procedure for approving the vaccines ensures they are safe and that it monitors side-effects and has seen nothing to warrant stopping their use.
The number of French care home workers declining the vaccine is half what it was in December, said Patrick Peretti-Watel, head of research at France’s National Institute for Health and Medical Research.
But Peretti-Watel, also a member of the government’s vaccine strategy steering committee, said getting more of them inoculated would require tackling the harm done by disputes over pay and working conditions.
“It’s a question of winning trust,” he said.