Some thoughts from France on Covid Vaccination Progress

QR code icon for the French anti covid app
QR code icon for the French anti covid app

Maybe because I’m 70 years old, I jumped at the first chance I had to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Even better, I received the version from Johnson and Johnson, not only a trusted brand for floor wax (actually that’s SC Johnson – not the same), but also a vaccine that needed only one shot. I came back from France (where at the time I was neither old enough nor sick enough to receive the vaccine) to the US so that I could receive this injection at a Rite-aide Pharmacy in Spokane, WA. The experience for me was painless and incident free, no discomfort, no swelling, no side effects.

That was in April. Since then, I’ve come back to France, where, because of fear of spread of the new delta variant, the government has mandated that, as of August 9th, each person present a verification, a digital code sent from the state in the form of a QR Code, that they have received the vaccine or can otherwise prove via the code presented, that they do not have Covid-19. This is a coercive effort by the government to get more people vaccinated.

outdoor café seating on Rue Cler
Outdoor café seating on Rue Cler

Though my vaccine, recognized in both the EU and the US as safe and effective, allows me to cross the border into the EU using the shot card that I was provided by Rite-aide, it doesn’t meet the French government’s new rules for controlling access to public places. For this, the record of your vaccination has to originate in Europe and be trackable in a way that lets the French government issue an easily scannable QR code (printed or on your cell phone app) so that guardians at the entry to bars, restaurants, museums, or concert halls can quickly grant or deny access to these spaces based on your vaccine status. For Americans, this means that your record of covid vaccination is inadequate to gain access to most of the tourist activities in France, including trains and aircraft within the country. If you do not have the vaccine credential, you can present the results of a Covid PCR test or antibody test taken within the prescribed time limits. This applies to outdoor venues as well as indoors. My last covid PCR test, good for 72 hours, cost me 53€. I can’t imagine why any American would want to visit France under those circumstances.

Outdoor covide antibody test tent along rue Saint Dominique
Outdoor covide antibody test tent along rue Saint Dominique

It is authorized for you to cross the border into France based upon your US record of vaccination, but it is not authorized for you to use that record to sit outside for lunch at a café. This might have something to do with the US precaution to not yet allow EU tourists across our borders.

One can see that the public health record of vaccinations in the US was neither conceived nor intended as certified record that could be linked to our national ID card. Oh yeah, we don’t actually have a national ID card.

Both in France and in the United States, I think a majority of people disdain the vocal minority who refuse to get the vaccination. It seems contrary to “science”, many would say. Yet the fact is, the US government (through the US Food and Drug Administration), while encouraging and mandating that certain groups get vaccinated, as well as supporting state and private efforts to do the same, refuses to certify that the vaccine is safe, except for emergency use.

In the August 5th edition of the Wall Street Journal, a letter to the editor included the following commentary, rebutting an editorial that criticized the FDA position:

The history of drug and vaccine development illustrates possible pitfalls of post-approval drug manufacturing, some of which have had dire consequences. The most notorious was the 1955 “Cutter incident,” in which more than 200,000 American children received a polio vaccine in which the process of inactivating the live virus was defective. The vaccine, manufactured by Cutter Laboratories, eventually caused 40,000 cases of polio, leaving 200 children with varying degrees of paralysis and killing 10.

The Pfizer -BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are not killed-virus vaccines, so faulty inactivation is not a possibility, but the manufacture is highly complex. Emergent BioSolutions, designated by the U.S. government as the sole domestic manufacturer of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, had to discard 75 million vaccine doses because of possible contamination. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration recalled certain batches of a commonly prescribed diabetes drug, metformin, because it contained unacceptably high levels of a cancer-causing chemical contaminant.

Applications for approval are extraordinarily complex and sometimes contain shortcomings or inconsistencies. The medical and public-health experts who are, with the best of intentions, demanding immediate full approval of the Covid-19 vaccines, have not actually reviewed all the data documenting that the manufacturers can produce batch after batch of vaccine with the necessary purity, potency and sterility.

There is also the big-picture issue: If the FDA were to grant full approval to a product that caused a debacle similar to the Cutter incident, or even a problem like the metformin contamination, it would not only injure patients but also provide fodder for anti-vaccine activists and make the public skeptical of vaccines for years, or even decades. We can’t afford a misstep.

Henry I. Miller, M.D.

It would seem that Dr Miller, a founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has already provided sufficient cause (if not verified, the future manufacturing of these vaccines could go awry) for anti-vaccine activists to make the public skeptical. Though about 400 million doses of the various types of vaccines have already been administered in the US, who is to say that future doses won’t be ill-manufactured and cause some sort of catastrophe (though having Covid-19 when you are young seems nothing like contracting polio)?

Perhaps the FDA should perform a cost benefit analysis of protecting their administrative integrity.

16 comments

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  1. Wally Hampton

    I’ve not researched this, but if I’d have gotten a vaccine in the US and could not use that for the QR code or other required EU ‘pass’, I’d consider getting another vaccine in the EU that would qualify me. People here in the US are already getting a third dose of the two dose variety via ‘un-official’ avenues.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Merci Wally. I think this conundrum will sort itself out, so I’m waiting. I’m not sure if it’s advisable to just get another vaccine, especially if what is available isn’t what you got the first time. I think that the booster shots are coordinated to the original vaccine both in type and dose. Also we know of an American here is France who received the vaccine here in France, but because she doesn’t have the national health insurance card in France, still can’t get the QR code. Again, I think all this stuff will eventually clear up, just like the weather (and the smoke).

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Nella, perhaps I’m just being stubborn, but I wonder if it’s a good idea (or if there are any health consequences) to getting vaccinated a second time. I’m wondering if it’s a problem if the 2nd vaccine isn’t the same type as the first. Don’t know these answers. In any case, getting vaccinated a 2nd time just to correct an administrative problem seems foolish. Also I’ve heard that if you receive the vaccine here in France but don’t have the French Carte Vitale, they still don’t give you a QR code. So for all those reasons, I’m waiting to see if maybe this problem fixes itself.

  2. Sheryl Bonciolini

    Thank you Hugh.
    As usual, you are a fountain of knowledge. It seems that it will now be even longer before I get back there. Why even go if they won’t let me in anywhere? And, I guess completing my Italian citizenship is going to take even longer than I originally thought too 😣
    Oh well, it will give me plenty of time to brush up on my Italian 😂
    Thanks,
    Sheryl Bonciolini

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Sheryl, Fear not, I’m sure that this, too shall pass, though it may take a while…longer than we think. Still, getting up to speed on Italian is a very worthwhile pursuit. Our French friends think that Italy is the most promising place for them to retire, so they are studying the language too. I’ve been reading Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” in French. It took a long time for me to get the nerve to do that, but the Covid crisis was the perfect catalyst. I saw your post and the first thing that came to mind was, oh no, Brenda will be asking me about getting some of those glass dishes again. That’s your sister, I think. Good to hear from you.

      • Sheryl Bonciolini

        Thank you Hugh,
        Yes, Diane is my sister. And, Brenda actually sold us our house many years ago!
        Glad to hear that you are both doing well
        Take care
        CIAO

  3. Midge Hiatt

    I fully understand your frustration with both the questionable quality of the vaccines produced and the EU restrictions. However for the short term I see, at least in Florida, the results of having versus not-having the available vaccines. I work with the most dire patients in the the ICUs of which 98% of those on ECMO for lung support had not received the vaccine. (Please research ECMO)
    Their recovery can take months.
    At least in the short term the vaccine can prevent death and millions of dollars in healthcare (another subject!) but long term vaccine effects remain to be seen.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Midge and thanks for your comments. Despite appearances, I really do agree with you. I knew that you are a perfusionist, didn’t know the term ECMO and didn’t know it’s role in Covid ICU treatments, though in retrospect that makes sense. You work in a world most of us can’t possibly imagine. The process of US FDA drug approval has been well developed and I’m sure is very thorough, but the Covid crisis has become tragically politicized. Despite heroic vaccine development by pharmaceutical companies, we as a world keep underestimating what will be necessary to get the virus under control. I expect that will continue, and that this battle will go on much longer than we currently think. In that respect, the FDA needs to unreservedly promote the vaccine (in all its forms approved for emergency use), even as it tries to monitor and evaluate the manufacturing processes. I think that people need to see getting the vaccine as a best shot at saving lives, like when you are really in trouble and you call the police or the fire department. All the rest of the political posturing on both sides is pointless. If proof of vaccination is to become a form of passport, then the federal government needs to get involved to coordinate record keeping and establish an internationally accepted standard.

    • Pamela

      According to much research, worldwide, therapies are available that are time test and cause no side effects, that make vaccinations, dangerously under tested and invasive, and unnecessary, except to fill the pockets of those invested in the pharmaceutical industry, and to succumb to the control of governments worldwide.

      • Hugh Nelson

        Bonjour Pamela, I’ll just add my 2 cents to your comment. I don’t really know anything about vaccines beyond that they employ various strategies to induce immunity in your body to some virus or other disease that is trying to kill or maim you. The pharmacist gave me a shot and told me it was Johnson and Johnson, but I didn’t verify the package or otherwise ask for proof. I’ve seen some presentations on the internet where doctors make claims such as you are stating, but it seems to me, ignorant as I am about vaccines, that if there were other effective treatments out there, they would have widespread use by now. My opinion is that we don’t live in the world of “Atlas Shrugged”, where a few super smart people have abandoned the corrupt world to form their own sort of utopia. In the US, there is hardly any suppression of ideas. Our country is still one of the best, if not the best, in quickly turning public needs into real solutions, usually through our market driven economy rather than through the brilliant ideas of our government, though they have their place too sometimes. So, since I don’t know much about vaccines, I trusted that the pharmacist knew what he was doing. Things have worked out ok so far, except for the paperwork, which isn’t up to French standards. Hope you and John are doing well – it’s good to hear from you!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Maureen! I saw this article too, though The Local said I had exceeded my limit of articles and needed to subscribe. I’ve made application through the French government site. Note that the program is for tourists rather than for Americans like me resident in France. One requirement for submission is a copy of your return ticket to the US. I supplied them with other information to prove that I had traveled to the US before I received the shot and then later returned to France. We’ll see how that goes. Hope you are doing well – it’s good to hear from you!

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