Pandemic News from France: Setbacks, Incentives, Skeptics, and Celebrations

July 14 Fireworks
July 14 Fireworks

As pre-pandemic activities slowly return, I’m beginning to think about when I might travel again to France. However, the pace of life is busier than ever. Last week, we hosted a graduation party for our daughters. At the end of next month, they will be heading off to different colleges. Meanwhile, my son is planning to spend a semester in Budapest. If all goes well, I’ll get a chance to travel to the western U.S. before summer’s end. As a result, I expect that my blogging output will be erratic until some time in September.

This week, however, I found time to celebrate France’s national holiday and catch up on the country’s Coronavirus situation.

A Difficult Rollout

The dopamine-producing neurotransmitters of my brain have long been lobbying for an overseas journey but looking at the numbers, such a trip still feels a ways off. France, not surprisingly, is my preferred destination but they are significantly behind the United States when it comes to vaccinations. As of Monday, roughly 40% of French citizens were fully vaccinated, compared to 50% in the United States.

Mask mandate in French cities
Mask mandates were imposed last year in French cities.

Part of the lag is due to the fact that French scientists failed to produce a viable vaccine. This created a significant outcry at the end of 2020 when it became clear that the French pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, would not be able to deliver a vaccine in the foreseeable future. The French people would have to rely on other countries for their vaccinations.

Concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine caused the next delay of several weeks. Finally, the EU’s inexperience in dealing with pandemics resulted in an overly drawn-out vaccine procurement process. However, by the end of May, Europe was vaccinating 3 million people per day—more than in the United States.

Open in Time to Shut Down?

France has had a phased approach to resuming normal life. In mid-May, restaurant terraces re-opened. By the second week of June, people could dine indoors. Nighttime curfews were lifted at the end of last month and last Friday, nightclubs welcomed revelers to their dance floors.

At the beginning of this week, fewer than one thousand people were hospitalized for Covid in France. However, the number of new coronavirus cases doubled last week and the Delta variant, which is more contagious, has become the dominant strain. With only 40% of the population vaccinated, health officials began talking about a 4th period of confinement.

Stemming the Tide

Macron imposes new measures
Macron imposes new measures

With the French economy growing again, President Macron recognized the urgency of putting measures in place to slow the spread of the indefatigable virus. He took to the airwaves on Monday evening to explain his plan of action. During his 20-minute address, he announced that all medical workers and care providers must be vaccinated. Vaccination for the general public remains voluntary but Macron imposed some powerful incentives.

Starting on July 21, 2021, everyone over the age of 17 will need to have a “health pass” if they want to dine at a restaurant, board a train, or visit any type of leisure or cultural space. You can only obtain a health pass if you’ve been vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test (within 48 hours).

By the end of the day on Tuesday, about 1.3 million people had scheduled their first vaccine appointment via the country’s free online booking site, Doctolib. Since mid-June, the average number of appointments per day has been less than 200,000, down from a previous high of around 400,000 appointments per day at the end of May.

French Anti-Vaxers

Even in the homeland of Louis Pasteur, there is a sizable portion of the citizenry that remains skeptical about vaccines. In a poll conducted in May, 20% of French people over the age of 18 said they refuse to get vaccinated. Another 13% were undecided.

Unfortunately, France suffers from the same disinformation campaigns regarding vaccine safety as the United States. Many have origins in Russia and China, but nefarious actors have also emerged from allied nations.

Several French and German social media influencers reported being approached by an allegedly UK-based PR agency. The agency offered them large sums of money in exchange for spreading false claims about the safety of Pfizer’s vaccine—the most widely used shot in France.

Léo Grasset, a French scientific YouTuber with more than 1 million subscribers, was asked to spread the false claim that deaths from Pfizer’s vaccine are almost three times higher than those from AstraZeneca. Fortunately, Grasset immediately suspected fraud and shared his concerns online.

Happy Belated 14th of July

Only time will tell whether Macron’s new health pass rules will be enough to reach the 80% vaccination goal that promises a reasonable level of herd immunity.

Given that I won’t be traveling to France in the near future, I at least took some time on Wednesday to celebrate the 239th anniversary of revolutionaries storming the Bastille. Happily, this year’s Fête Nationale, known as Bastille Day in the United States, came much closer to resembling national holidays of the past.

In 2016, my husband Andy and I had the pleasure of attending the annual light and fireworks show that illuminates the Eiffel Tower each July 14th. In 2020, this exposition was canceled but this year it resumed with spectators wearing masks. Click on the image below to see Wednesday night’s spectacular show, reaffirming France’s resilience and the country’s talent for putting on un spectacle magnifique.

July 14 Fireworks
Click on the image to watch the spectacular show from July 14, 2021.

Other Resources

  • Le Monde, Comment Sanofi s’est retrouvé distancé dans la course au vaccin contre le Covid-19
  • Brookings, EU learns from mistakes on vaccines
  • Le Monde, Covid-19 : les Français ont de plus en plus confiance en la vaccination
  • La Chaine Info: Vaccin : la déstabilisation russe ?

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. OUi, c’est tellement triste de voir tant de Français ressemblant aux Américains, mettant leur liberté devant le bien commun.

  2. Ten percent of people have Trypanophobia, a fear of needles. I think many anti-vaxxers are just trying to justify their terror of vaccines.

    • Good point Masercot. Even people that are afraid of needles, however, sometimes get vaccinated. My sister volunteered to check people in when they showed up at a vaccination site. Some were pretty nervous. One large guy fainted while filling out the paperwork. He eventually went through with it though.

      Kind of like people who are afraid to fly. They white knuckle the ride or pop a Valium to make it to their destination.

  3. By the end of the day on Tuesday, about 1.3 million people had scheduled their first vaccine appointment

    Sounds like the incentives are working. Let’s hope Macron keeps up the pressure.

    Pfizer should sue that PR agency. Knowingly spreading false and defamatory claims about their vaccine should certainly be actionable. It also needs to be more widely publicized that some of the anti-vaccine propaganda is coming from Russia and China. people need to know that these claims are a form of attack by hostile dictatorships.

    I’m curious why a holiday which commemorates the storming of the Bastille is observed with fireworks. With the US Independence Day it’s fairly obvious — the fireworks represent rockets used in battle during the war against the British. But I assume rockets weren’t used in storming the Bastille.

    • There is quite a bit of news in France about Russia and China being behind most of these initiatives. Last I saw, the PR agency hadn’t revealed its client but the Russians are suspected. Given that the agency is in the UK, I’m not sure how France (or Pfizer) is proceeding but I suspect authorities in both countries are investigating these incidents.

      The storming of the Bastille is symbolic in more ways than one. At the time, the infamous prison only held 7 prisoners. The insurgents that broke in were looking for ammunition and cannons. It was hardly a massive coup but the date was chosen to mark the beginning of the French Revolution (which arguably started in May). However, rockets were undoubtedly used during the revolution. It’s somewhat similar to July 4. Our Independence Day marks the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

      Bottom line: people just like a good fireworks show.

  4. Here in Irelande we have the same problems, but the pace of vaccination is fast. We have over 60% fully vaccinated and 70% first jabbed. The Irish mentality is to challenge and deride everything, and in that debate people come to appreciate what’s really happening. A good example- the government announce that only vaccinated people can eat at indoor restaurants. There is an outcry!! Discrimination; unfair! Unworkable! Unenforceable. Even though it will only be until 100% of adults are vaccinated. Ok so what’s the solution – keep pubs and restaurants shut for 2 months or fill the hospitals. Soon most people get on board, showing no embarrassment or apology. That’s the Irish way!

    We have our crazy folk also. However we try not to exhibit schadenfreude as we point out they will be the only ones dying!!!!

    I gather there’s some entertaining competition between the UK and La France. Irelande is v definitely on the side of France!

  5. Hi Carole. The Health pass is a national shame: French citizens (as myself) fully vaccinated abroad with an EU authorized vaccine (i.e. Pfizer) can’t get a Health. The French/EU programme can’t read “foreign” QR codes. Le comble de la stupidité. So I am barred from all museums and will probably be barred from restaurants as of early August. “Working on it” they say. I am a tad p.o’ed.
    Best wishes for your travel plans. (Oh: US QR codes can’t be read either…)

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