France: The Vaccine Arrives

January 6, 2021 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

Keep your distance til you get that vaccine, everyone!

Well, here we are. The coronavirus vaccine has arrived in France, and it is being slowly (quite slowly!) distributed. In fact, according to doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, as well as many mayors of French cities and villages, it is being distributed way too slowly. 😦

Having been so impressed at the way the French government handled things back in March when the pandemic first hit here, it has been both disappointing and surprising to see that the response, starting last fall, has not been all that impressive. I was in a Parisian hospital one day last September and I overheard two doctors talking as they walked by. One of them was saying “Macron fait un peu Trump…” (Macron is acting a bit like Trump), and added something about how halfway measures don’t really work, the response to a pandemic has to be clear, decisive, and aggressive. (Kind of the way it was back in March, in other words…)

The reason for this conversation is probably that since sometime in September the number of cases was mounting in France, and many experts felt that it was time for another lockdown. However, the lockdown, when it finally came at the end of October, was both later than it should have been, and also a pretty confusing one. It was billed as “confinement lite” (not officially, but informally people were calling it that); and the main result seems to have been not all that much confinement, and (not surprisingly) not all that much success in keeping the numbers down either.

I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice it to say that I think most people in France would have preferred something both clearer and more effective. I do understand that the government is reluctant to add to the already really serious economic consequences of lockdown, however. It’s a difficult problem, to say the least.

As for the slow start on vaccination, as with most things in France, the reasons behind this matter are of course “compliqué.” (There is a whole chapter in my book, titled “A Passion for Complication.” There’s a reason for that! 🙂

My son, who is most of the time a fairly enthusiastic francophile, has nonetheless been both frustrated and bewildered by the slowness of the distribution of the vaccine. He asked his best friend here why it was taking France so long to get the vaccines going. (The comparison with other countries is really kind of embarrassing.) She said there were primarily two reasons: 1) logistique (which I gather has to do not only with distribution of the vaccine, but also the need to keep the vaccines at a very low temperature while transporting and storing it, as well as many important details of how to safely and effectively administer it); and 2) the government’s desire to not have people think they are moving too quickly with a new vaccine. This is probably related to the fact that apparently 60 percent of the French public is somewhat resistant to the idea of taking vaccines in general and this one in particular.

Well, this has led to a great many long and interesting conversations on French television and radio. And in listening to these sources of information, I have learned yet another reason for the slow start, which goes back to that same chapter in my book. That is the fact that, as French commentators have been noting, the procedure for getting permission for the elderly living in nursing homes to receive the vaccine, for example, is, yes, extremely complicated, perhaps even too complicated. They have even said that this is “typically French,” with a typically Gallic shrugging of their shoulders. (They have said it, not me! As an American in France who is constantly noting French foibles (though almost always affectionately,) I must say it is rewarding to have French people agree with me. 🙂 )

Here’s a little video clip to illustrate what I mean, for those of you who speak French. (For those of you who don’t, one of the most revealing bits in the clip is that getting consent for giving the vaccine to the elderly was explained in a 45-page document delivered to the nursing homes of France on Christmas Eve, about 3 days before the campaign was to begin (!)

On the other hand, I must say that given the vociferous, and mostly united and very strong criticism of the slow-as-molasses approach initially taken by the government–the words injustifiable and inexcusable are among the adjectives that I have heard frequently in recent days–they have been very quick to respond to the criticism and change course. Yesterday the Minister of Health announced that the government was going to immediately “amplifier, accelerer, and simplifier” the process. The initial result of this will mean, for one thing, that health care workers over 50 will be moved to the front of the line.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it?!?!?!

So anyway. That is the main news from my little perch in France this week. I will say that the concerns about a new surge of COVID cases following the holidays has seemed to inspire more or less universal respect for and practicing of les gestes barrieres. Almost everyone is wearing masks, almost everywhere, including here in Essoyes. And I assume they are also taking the other precautions–washing hands, keeping physical distance, and so on. Nobody wants to see “the Thanksgiving effect” (pronounced here as “l’effet Sanksgeeveeng”) that was seen in the U.S. take hold here.

Fingers crossed. Stay safe, stay well, everyone. Wear those masks, and until the vaccine has a chance to work, stay home as much as you can. The vaccine is here, and eventually things will get better…right????

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

Entry filed under: About France, About the Pandemic....

Bonne nouvelle année from Essoyes Softly falling snow…

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