Healthcare workers in France who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 should be allowed to return to work after a recommendation from health authorities.
In new advice, published on March 30, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) said vaccinations for healthcare workers no longer need to be “mandatory”, although they remain “strongly recommended”.
It specified: “Vaccination against Covid-19 is strongly recommended…for students and professionals in the healthcare and medico-social sectors.”
Unvaccinated healthcare staff in France have been barred from working since September 2021, in a move that the government made following advice from the HAS.
Medical staff were required to be fully vaccinated - including all doses and boosters - to work. The ruling affected 2.7 million people, including workers in hospitals and elderly care homes and at-home carers, paramedics, and firefighters.
By November 2022, 4,000 workers were still suspended without pay, according to figures from hospital group la Fédération hospitalière de France, as were “1,050 nurses out of the 300,000 working”, said French Health Minister François Braun on radio show RTL.
Why does this mean unvaccinated workers may soon be able to return?
While the HAS only makes recommendations - and not policy - the government typically listens to its advice.
Already, Mr Braun has told AFP that he will “follow the scientific authority’s advice”. He said he would “consult hospital federations and professional healthcare orders to define ways in which we can do this”. He added that the move would soon be mentioned in an official decree.
He said that “the idea is to go quite quickly” and that it will happen “in the next few days or weeks” and “reintegrate professionals in good conditions”.
The medical ethics council, le Conseil consultatif d'éthique (CCNE), is also set to issue new advice on the same subject soon, and the government usually listens to this, too.
In December last year, Mr Braun said that he was not in favour of letting unvaccinated workers return to work, but said that he would “follow the advice” from health authorities.
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Why has the HAS made this recommendation now?
It said that its previous advice was made “in different health and epidemic contexts”. This new advice has been made within a “more favourable epidemic dynamic”, it said.
Elisabeth Bouvet, infectious disease specialist, said at a press conference: “The number of new cases has significantly dropped…and new variants are significantly less virulent.”
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Is Covid the only vaccination no longer recommended?
No. The HAS also said that the so-called ‘DTP’ vaccines – namely diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis – should no longer be mandatory, except in certain populations and those who work with young people aged 6-16.
However, vaccinations remain strongly recommended.
Does the advice mean vaccinations are no longer recommended in general?
No. The HAS has specified that it still “strongly recommends” vaccination against Covid (and other vaccinations) for healthcare professionals and members of the public.
The statement said that its new advice “does not constitute a questioning of its previous advice or its recommendations given in different health and epidemic contexts”.
It has also said that it believes mandatory vaccination for some healthcare professionals against hepatitis B should remain in place. It added that independent doctors should also be vaccinated against hepatitis B, if they are “susceptible to a risk of contamination, or to expose it to people they are looking after”.
The HAS is also set to issue updated advice in July for other vaccinations that are currently strongly recommended for health professionals, including whooping cough, influenza, hepatitis A, measles, mumps, rubella, and shingles.
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