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France and Greece mandate vaccinations for health workers amid delta variant surge

“The equation is simple. The more we vaccinate, the less space we leave this virus to circulate,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)
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France and Greece have both announced plans to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for health-care workers as the more virulent delta variant gains ground across Europe, threatening even those nations with high or climbing inoculation rates.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address Monday that France was “facing a strong resumption of the epidemic” and that a slowing vaccination campaign could lead to rising hospitalizations later this summer.

“The equation is simple. The more we vaccinate, the less space we leave this virus to circulate,” he said.

In Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said Monday that health-care workers must be immunized starting Sept. 1, and that nursing staff will be required to begin receiving vaccinations immediately.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The Food and Drug Administration warned Monday that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked to a rare but serious side effect in which the immune system attacks the nerves.
  • World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized wealthier countries for contemplating booster shots at a time when most of the developing world remains unvaccinated.
  • Japan will send a third shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Taiwan this week, as it seeks to bolster the Asian island against China. The latest dispatch means Tokyo has donated more than 3.3 million shots to Taipei.
  • China said it has administered over 1.39 billion vaccine doses, even as countries using Chinese-developed shots increasingly eye Western-made messenger RNA vaccines as boosters. The country logged about 50 new infections on Monday.
  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she was “pushing really hard” to make it easier for international travelers to enter the United States. But she added the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was nervous and determining vaccination statuses was challenging.

Both Macron and Mitsotakis announced Monday new measures that would provide vaccinated people with privileged access to activities such as indoor dining, entering shopping malls and cinemas and traveling on planes and trains. In France, those plans drew criticism from the hospitality sector on Tuesday, with some business representatives demanding the steps be delayed.

People in France will also be able to access restricted venues by providing proof of immunity through infection or a recent negative coronavirus test result, although the country will soon start charging for some tests that had been free.

The announcement prompted hundreds of thousands of French residents to book appointments for their first shot within the following hours. Online booking platform Doctolib called the surge an “absolute record.”

Meanwhile, Greek authorities said Tuesday that only fully vaccinated individuals would be allowed to use public indoor spaces in the country until Aug. 31, when the policy would be reassessed.

“The country will not shut down again because of some,” Mitsotakis said in his televised address Monday. “It is not Greece that is in danger, but unvaccinated Greeks.”

The moves to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for certain sectors of the population come as some nations are seeing immunization rates slow — even as the delta variant spreads — and are struggling to balance public health restrictions with individual liberties.

Italy announced in March that all health-care workers must be vaccinated or face a year-long suspension without pay, making it the first country in Europe to impose such a requirement. England is set to make vaccines required for home health workers, after a grace period beginning in October.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran said Monday that health workers in France would also be suspended without pay if they are not fully vaccinated by Sept. 15. The delta variant accounts for more than half of new infections in the country, Véran said.

In remarks Monday, Tedros, the World Health Organization director general, said the delta variant is “ripping around the world at a scorching pace.”

But the agency has so far declined to support mandates for coronavirus vaccinations, instead saying in a recent policy brief that such policies “can be ethically justified, as they may be crucial to protect the health and well-being of the public.”

The aim of the new policies in France, Macron said in his address, is to “put restrictions on the unvaccinated rather than on everyone.”

While Macron stressed that — for now — vaccination would remain voluntary for most French, France’s conservative Le Figaro newspaper described the planned changes as paving “the way for mandatory vaccination for all.”

In France, 51 percent of people age 18 and over have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the Health Ministry. But widespread vaccine hesitancy and declining case numbers have hobbled efforts to get more people to take the shots.

More than 45 percent of adults in Greece are also fully immunized, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Athens will begin vaccinating people between the ages of 15 and 17 later this week, the head of Greece’s vaccination committee, Maria Theodoridou, said Monday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday on Twitter that more than 50 percent of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated.

Bryan Pietsch in Seoul contributed to this report.

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