3,000 unvaccinated French healthcare workers suspended from work

3,000 unvaccinated French healthcare workers suspended from work
Photo: Cedrick Isham CALVADOS / AFP
A total of 3,000 French health workers have been suspended from work and several dozen have resigned as enforcement begins of compulsory vaccination for healthcare staff in France.

Wednesday marked the deadline for health and emergency workers to present to their employer proof of vaccination against Covid and on Thursday health minister Olivier Véran told RTL that 3,000 suspensions have been reported in hospitals, nursing homes and medical centres of unvaccinated workers.

Several dozen more have resigned, he added.

The decree making vaccination compulsory covers around 2.7 million people and September 15th marked the deadline to have had at least the first dose of the vaccine.

Unvaccinated health staff cannot work and will not be paid, although the French Constitutional Court has ruled that they cannot be fired.

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One of France’s biggest public sector unions, the hardline CGT, has warned of a “health catastrophe” if the government suspends large numbers of health workers and bars private-sector doctors from practising.

On Tuesday and Wednesday there were several demonstrations outside hospitals and the health ministry.

Not all of those demonstrating were unvaccinated, such as the woman below who when interviewed said she had been vaccinated but was unhappy about it because she claimed the vaccine comes with risks of heart problems – the journalist then points out that she is smoking a cigarette.

“Whether we’re vaccinated or not, we’re against making it compulsory,” Valerie, a 57-year-old nursing assistant, who did not wish to give her surname, told AFP.

The BFM news channel reported Tuesday that a hospital in the southern city of Montelimar had begun cancelling dozens of operations scheduled for next week due to a shortage of vaccinated anaesthetists.

“Four theatres will be unable to function as normal,” Henri Osman, the director of the hospital’s medical commission told the network.

But many of the members of the public that The Local spoke to in Paris were supportive of the measures.

“I’m in favour of enforcing vaccination for healthcare workers because these people care for those who are ill, who have compromised immune systems, so I think it is an obligation morally for them to get vaccinated. Especially in a place like a hospital, which is already, even before the pandemic, a major site of infection,” said Natalie, currently seeking employment in the finance sector.

“On a personal note, I sadly lost a cousin earlier this year, who was infected whilst in hospital.

Yes there is a big risk of staffing shortages – there were already problems of staffing shortages before.”

Singer Julie added: “I’m overall in favour, because in hospitals there are very vulnerable people.

“However, obligations are always shocking and difficult to accept, and there are always cases of people who are nervous about vaccinations, and I understand that sometimes their fears are not unfounded.” 

Recently-retired Jean said: “I’m torn. I think healthcare workers’ job, above all, is to protect other people, but I also think getting vaccinated is a personal choice. Obligating people to be vaccinated to be allowed to work in healthcare, yes, but compulsory vaccination in general, no.”

“I think it’s the only way to put an end to the pandemic,” said Wanda. “People who work in healthcare should have a vested interest in getting vaccinated, especially if they work in a hospital with vulnerable people. 

Charity worker Anne added: “I’m in favour of the new rules because freedom doesn’t mean freedom to risk other people’s lives. 

“With regards to possible staff shortages, it’s more dangerous if unvaccinated healthcare workers stay, than if they leave.”

Estimates published by the national public health agency a week ago showed that around 12 percent of hospital staff and around six percent of doctors in private practices had yet to be vaccinated.

The national federation of ambulance workers FNMS in late August estimated that 13 percent of its members were still resisting coronavirus shots.

Amel Benothman, a 41-year-old nurse and father-of-three working at a psychiatric hospital in the northern city of Lille told AFP he was “too worried” about the side-effects of the vaccine to get immunised even if it meant losing his job.

“I’ve already had a mild case of Covid and consider that the risks outweigh the benefits,” he said during a demonstration in Lille on Saturday.

The September 15th deadline was laid out by president Emmanuel Macron when he announced plans for the health passport back in July, with a delay in implementation to allow health workers time to get the jab.

The rule affects all workers in healthcare and employees in nursing and care homes, plus anyone who volunteers in those settings.

Non-medical staff such as doctor’s receptionists are also concerned, as well as medical students, emergency service workers in contact with the public, home-helps and domestic workers working with the elderly or vulnerable and patient transport staff.

Figures released by Santé Publique France on September 7th show that 88 percent of healthcare staff have had at least one dose, while 84 percent are fully vaccinated. Among community healthcare workers such as GPs, this rises to 94 percent, with 90 percent fully vaccinated.

From September 15th, all healthcare staff are required to present to their employer a certificate of vaccination.

If they have had only one dose, they will need to continue to take a Covid test every 72 hours until they have the second dose.

By October 15th, all staff will be required to present a certificate of full vaccination.

Those who cannot show the required certificate will be suspended from work with no pay, although they will continue to be employed and will benefit from the usual employment rights including employer contributions to their pension and the right to accrue holiday and sick leave.

However, unvaccinated employees will not be permitted to take paid sick leave, although they can use up any unused holiday days if their employer agrees.

Although health and emergency workers are the only staff covered by mandatory vaccination, employees of health passport venues such as bars and cafés must show either a vaccination certificate or proof of recent recovery from Covid or a negative test every 72 hours in order to work.


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