How and how much No-Vax make themselves heard in France according to the Financial Times newspaper
Already in November, when BioNTech and Pzifer presented a Covid-19 vaccine with over 90% effectiveness, the news was welcomed internationally. In the country of vaccination pioneer Louis Pasteur, however, distrust has been high from day one. According to recent polls, only 40 percent of French people say they want to be vaccinated. By comparison, UK polls show that the percentage of Brits willing to get vaccinated is 77 percent – writes the FT.
This skepticism influenced the French fight against the virus. The nation has been slow to start vaccinating but has now inoculated 93,000 people, according to health ministry data released Saturday. Health Minister Olivier Véran was accused of pandering to anti-viruses after saying the government had to be "educational" in its approach.
But France's hesitation about vaccines predates Covid-19. A 2019 Gallup poll conducted in 144 countries showed that France is home to one of the strongest anti-vaccine sentiments in the world. The pandemic has only reinforced this sentiment and has allowed the nation's online anti-vaccine communities to be more successful at courting "hesitant vaccines" than health authorities.
The French refusal of vaccination reflects an erosion of years of trust in the political and medical elites.
Distrust of medical institutions has been fueled by a number of high-profile scandals, from the tainted blood cases of the 1990s to the most recent trial over deaths from Mediator diabetes pills. In 2009, controversies surrounding the H1N1 flu vaccine trials, including concerns about conflicts of interest between experts and pharmaceutical groups, also damaged France's trust in medical authorities.
Meanwhile, political confidence continues to be undermined by anti-establishment groups. The yellow vests movement, which enjoyed a resurgence during the pandemic, is now talking less about taxes and inequalities and more about how the government uses fears of the virus to silence its citizens. Indeed, research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that online disinformation about Covid-19 in France primarily takes the form of these conspiracy theories – and the anti-establishment movement has become a major propagator of vaccination disinformation.
In November, Hold-Up – a mass-funded documentary exploring conspiracy theories about the pandemic – was seen by millions of French people within a week of its release. It has attacked vaccines, "big pharma", medical institutions at home and abroad, and has tapped into existing popular grievances against the Paris government.
While this combination of online misinformation and elite distrust may not be specific to France, the depth and longevity of the sentiment would appear to be.
The unpopularity of successive governments – the last two presidents did not secure re-election – had already dented confidence in politics. The contradictory messages perceived during the pandemic hurt trust the most. Ministers said the general use of masks was "useless" only a few weeks before masks were made mandatory on the streets of the city. While the messaging quickly adapted to medical advice, the inconsistency had an impact.
As suspicions about medical institutions have grown, so have contrary figures in the medical world emerged, portrayed as underdogs fighting a corrupt system. Didier Raoult, the Marseille doctor who achieved notoriety after becoming an advocate for the use of chloroquine to treat Covid-19, has become a go-to figure for online anti-vax groups and garnered the support of yellow vests. . Pro-Raoult groups on Facebook were among the most active in discussing the pandemic during the second wave.
The French government's vote to speed up vaccinations may therefore depend on rebuilding trust in its politicians and medical experts. It must ensure that people receive fact-based information – and it must compete with anti-vax content online.
Faced with mounting pressure, tech companies including Facebook and TikTok are taking steps to remove the most harmful anti-vasmine misinformation from their platforms. But anti-vax communities, in France as elsewhere, have been able to build their audience on social media for years.
Anti-vaccine groups intersect with other online communities, making them difficult to remove. Even retroactive removal of malicious anti-vax content, while necessary, can be fraught with difficulties. This means that the French government must continue to pressure tech companies to eliminate disinformation and highlight official advice, while providing more decisive messaging. In short, politicians need to be as convincing as the conspiracy theorists they fight.
(Extract from the press review of Eprcomunicazione )
This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/no-vax-francia-coronavirus/ on Sat, 16 Jan 2021 07:07:39 +0000.