The advance of the Delta variant reopens the debate on compulsory vaccination

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The French government has revived the debate on compulsory vaccination by threatening to take coercive measures targeting the staff of nursing homes, which it still considers too reluctant to receive the vaccine against Covid-19. A sensitive debate aroused in many countries as the more contagious Delta variant is gaining ground.

“Who can understand that the virus enters an nursing home through those whose mission it is to treat?” Visiting a retirement home in the Landes, Thursday, June 24, Prime Minister Jean Castex banged his fist on the table. In this Mont-de-Marsan establishment, 23 residents were infected by six staff members, five of whom were unvaccinated. An “unacceptable” situation for the chief executive, who asserted: “This vaccination must be almost complete by the end of the summer, otherwise we would have to take our responsibilities”.

Faced with the progression of the Delta variant, which is more contagious, and the reluctance of part of the population towards vaccination, the French government is now considering coercive measures to avoid a fourth wave. An approach already used in a targeted manner in England, Russia and the United States, not without controversy.

  • France: “solemn appeal” to caregivers

After a launch complicated by problems with deliveries of doses, the French vaccine campaign intensified from March to the end of May, with a gradual opening to the greatest number. But while nearly half of the French have received at least one dose of the vaccine (48.14% as of June 21), a marked slowdown in the campaign has been observed in recent weeks. According to studies, the share of undecided and opposed to the vaccine still represents about 30% of the global population. Faced with this situation, the National Academy of Medicine, which advises the government, ruled that without compulsory vaccination, it would be “very difficult” quickly achieve a vaccination coverage rate ensuring “sufficient collective immunity to control the epidemic, ie 90% of the adult population or 80% of the total population (children included)”.

“We must do much better”, recognized Thursday the Prime Minister, deploring a still too great mistrust of a part of the French towards vaccination. If the government does not consider, at this stage, to make compulsory vaccination for all , the Minister of Health Olivier Véran launched last week a “solemn appeal” to the staff of nursing homes to be vaccinated, leaving the threat of a coercive measure at the start of the school year for the employees of these institutions.

  • England: compulsory vaccination in nursing homes

In a country heavily affected by the Delta variant – due in particular to the large Indian and Pakistani communities – the British government announced on June 16 that vaccination against Covid-19 would become mandatory for nursing home staff in England. In this announcement in parliament, Minister of Health Matt Hancock stressed that even if the majority of staff were already vaccinated, this measure would save lives among the elderly who remain, even vaccinated, more fragile. He also clarified that he did not plan to extend compulsory vaccination beyond workers in the medical sector.

The measure should come into force in October, with a period of 16 weeks allowing healthcare staff to fulfill this obligation, otherwise they will no longer be able to work in contact with patients. An announcement that has aroused strong criticism within the profession: some establishments consider that this “discriminatory” measure would pose recruitment problems.

For their part, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have said they do not intend to put such a measure in place.

  • Russia: standoff with the skeptics

The country of Vladimir Putin is part of the closed circle of nations that have successfully designed a vaccine against Covid-19. But when it comes to injections, Russia is lagging behind, with less than 15% of its population having received a first dose. This situation worries the authorities as the country faces a resurgence of the pandemic forcing the state to impose drastic measures. The city of Moscow last week made vaccination compulsory for service workers. This measure, which has since been introduced in 18 other regions, according to the Russian health agency, is controversial in the country where mistrust of the vaccine remains very strong.

See France 24 report: Vaccination almost compulsory in Moscow as the Covid-19 epidemic rebounds

  • United States: Cascading Legal Battles

If Joe Biden wanted to be much more offensive than his predecessor, Donald Trump, in the fight against Covid-19, the US president however did not wish to make vaccination compulsory, judging that his role was to convince rather than to impose.

However, the reality on the ground is much more complex because the vaccination obligation can be decreed by States, companies or even institutions unilaterally. Employees of the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, have had the sad experience: the institution, which had set June 7 as the deadline for being vaccinated, has just announced the layoffs and resignations of 150 employees. After the rejection of a first complaint, the latter have since announced that they have initiated a second legal procedure against the hospital.

Many other hospitals across the country have also imposed mandatory vaccination for the safety of patients and hospital staff – this is the case in Maryland, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Washington. Also decreed by hundreds of schools and universities, this measure arouses strong opposition in places. On the Bloomington campus in Indiana, for example, where demonstrations took place and a complaint was filed by students.

Faced with the proliferation of these cases, several States have taken measures to regulate, or even ban, the vaccination obligation. This is particularly the case ofArkansas, Montana or North Carolina.

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