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Amid High Vaccine Skepticism, France Has Inoculated 75% Of Its Population

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

About 3,000 health care workers in France have been suspended from work this week. That's because they've all refused to get vaccinated so far. President Emmanuel Macron enacted some tough vaccine mandates back in July. Some people took to the streets in protest. But as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, most have simply complied.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: France, a country with a reputation for high vaccine skepticism, has now inoculated 75% of its population. And it's 86% if you take those over the age of 12. French health minister Olivier Veran spoke on RTL radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF RTL BROADCAST)

OLIVIER VERAN: (Through interpreter) Nine out of 10 vaccine-eligible people are vaccinated. We now have one of the highest rates in the world. In July, only 40% of our population was vaccinated, nearly the lowest in Europe.

BEARDSLEY: The rate of infection in France has dropped to less than 100 people per 100,000 and is falling 30% a week. Veran says that's thanks to the vaccine, masks and the sanitary pass, or pass sanitaire. That's the QR code that proves you're vaccinated or just had a negative test. You have to show it to do just about everything that involves mixing with others - museums, movies, shopping malls, even to sit at an outdoor cafe.

JEROME MILLET: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: That's Jerome Millet, owner of cafe Le Capitaine M in Paris' 15th arrondissement.

MILLET: Everybody needs to show the pass sanitaire. If you want to come inside, outside, one drink, one coffee - any time we have to ask.

BEARDSLEY: Millet says only a couple people have refused.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in French).

BEARDSLEY: There are those who believe their freedom is being taken away who've been protesting in cities across France since July. But their numbers are fewer and fewer. The success of the vaccine mandates is a big win for Macron seven months ahead of the presidential election. The cover of one newspaper yesterday showed him smiling with outstretched arms and a big golden 50 million above his head. That's the number of French people who've now been vaccinated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Speaking this week, Macron said some restrictions could actually be lifted in areas of the country where the infection rate is now less than 50 per 100,000 people.

Bar and restaurant employees were also obligated to get vaccinated or face closure. Cafe owner Millet admits, without the pressure, he and his partners might not have done it.

MILLET: We talked together before. In order to work easily, we had to get the vaccine. So we did it all together. The bar is living. People are coming. I did it for the bar, for the colleagues and for us.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "LOOKING UP, WE DANCED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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