The French like to do things differently from everyone else. In the last few months they have made the headlines around the world for the dogged refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The reasons are varied. Some people believe in the wildest conspiracy theories, claiming that the vaccines are designed to modify people's DNA so that governments can control them! Not only do such people lack any knowledge of genetics/biology/medicine, but even if that was possible, there would need to be a sort of global consensus from all/most governments, a thing that has practically never happened.

Other people simply object to the government telling them what to do. They are anti-establishment, even maybe anarchists. During the Covid lockdowns, the French government imposed heavy fines on people who did not respect the rules, and some of the rules were stricter than almost anywhere else. At one point there was a curfew set at 6 pm! At another there was an obligation to carry a travel exemption certificate (attestation de déplacement dérogatoire) to go out, even to go grocery shopping, clearly mentioning on the paper the reason for going out. This way, if the police stopped someone, they could verify if the reason stated on the paper matched their location. Later they restricted all movements within France to a certain distance radius from one's home. It's understandable that a lot of French people see these rules as abusive limitations of their freedom. Some compared it to living under Nazi occupation and half-jokingly said that soon people who weren't vaccinated would have to carry a yellow star on their arm (in reference to the Jews living under the Nazi regime).

The anti-vaccine movement has been strong in France for a long time. It's one of the few countries with Italy, Greece and the US where a significant minority of the population fears that child vaccines can cause autism or other issues.

BBC News: The vaccine misinformation battle raging in France

"France is one of the most vaccine-sceptical countries in the world - fertile ground for hard-line anti-vaccine activists spreading online misinformation, writes the BBC's specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring.

The Facebook group that Gilles helps to run is just one example of a larger trend - an increase in French-language anti-vaccine content on social media over the past year.

Research from BBC Monitoring found that the number of followers of pages sharing extreme anti-vaccine content in French grew in 2020, from 3.2m to nearly 4.1m likes.

These pages aren't about asking legitimate medical questions - they're miles away from the scientific and political discussions currently under way in Europe and elsewhere.

Instead, they're run by people who've firmly made up their minds against vaccinations, and who spread wild false rumours about vaccines killing millions, containing tracking devices, or altering our DNA.

Anti-vaccine pages in French also tend to mix in anti-establishment posts. Many of the discussions centre around concerns that Covid jabs could be made compulsory, with anti-establishment and protest communities fearing that French democracy will be replaced with a so-called "sanitary dictatorship".
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CNBC : France’s vaccine-skepticism is making its Covid immunization drive much harder

"France is thought to be one of the most vaccine-skeptical nations in the world, with public distrust of immunization programs borne out in opinion polls even prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
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An Ipsos survey conducted in conjunction with the World Economic Forum between Dec. 17-20 (and so after the first Covid-19 vaccinations had been given in the U.S. and U.K. but not yet in the EU), found the lowest levels of vaccination intent in France.

The survey — of 13,500 people in 15 countries — found that only 40% of adults asked in France intended to get the vaccine. The highest intention was found in China, where the coronavirus pandemic first emerged in December 2019, with 80% of people agreeing they would get a vaccine if it were available. For comparison, 77% of those asked in the U.K. said they would have the shot, and 69% of those in the U.S. said they intended to get the vaccine.
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Another September 2020 survey comprising 27 countries shows that a few months earlier 59% of French people wanted to be vaccinated. So there has been a recent decrease. In this poll, France was already among the most anti-vaccine countries. Only Hungary, Poland and Russia were even more so. All countries where confidence in the state is very low!

Intention to be vaccinated (Sept 2020): Russia 53%, France 59%, USA 67%, Belgium 71%, Japan 75%, United Kingdom 85%, Australia 87%...

In the United States, it is mainly blacks and Hispanics who are skeptical of the vaccine. They are also the two ethnic groups that trust the government the least (historically). So it's really about trust.


Yet, the French are in fact heavily divided on the issue. In another survey asking if the Covid-19 vaccine should be mandatory for everyone, 37% of French people replied that it should. That was the lowest percentage in the survey, but still. It means that on the one hand somewhere between 41% and 60% of French people do not want to be vaccinated, but 37% think it should be compulsory. That leaves only about 3 to 22% of moderates in the middle.