‘Are we guinea pigs?’ – France’s seniors cautious of COVID vaccine

SARTROUVILLE (France), December 15

French nursing home boss Yann Reboulleau was trying to persuade 92-year-old resident Madeleine Bonnet of the merits of taking the COVID-19 vaccine, and he was having a tough time.

“Are we guinea pigs?” asked Bonnet, who used to work as a pharmacist, as she sat across from Reboulleau in the television room of the “Mon Repos” home while cooks prepared a lunch of bulgur wheat and chicken.

Reboulleau pointed out that vaccines undergo extensive testing to ensure they are safe. Bonnet fired back: “But with how much certainty?”

Scientists say the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines— once the first of them receives regulatory approval for Europe in the coming weeks—will play a huge role in knocking back a virus that in France alone has contributed to more than 58,000 deaths.

But the effectiveness of the vaccine could be compromised, scientists say, by a widespread reluctance of people in France to have it. More than half the population say they will not, or probably not, get inoculated, polls show.

That reluctance is shared at the “Mon Repos” home near Paris, even though the residents, ranging in age from 87 to 100, are among the most vulnerable groups to getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.

In the first wave of the virus earlier this year, the home had a cluster of infections during which four residents died.

Nationally, over 17,000 of the COVID-related deaths were in care homes and 93 per cent of all those who died with COVID-19 were 65 or over, public health figures showed.

Laurent Levasseur, chairman of Bluelinea, a company which helps care homes handle the virus, including “Mon Repos”, said his company had surveyed residents by phone and those undecided or against having the vaccine outweighed those in favour.

Sitting next to a Christmas tree, Bonnet said she was suspicious about the motives of the pharmaceutical companies rushing to get their vaccines approved and rolled out in record time.

If their actions were driven by profit, that made her uncomfortable, she said. If the scheme was to advance medical science, she was in favour, and was willing to be part of it.

For now though, she was undecided about whether to have the jab when it is offered to her. “We’ll see,” she said.

— Reuters

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