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Aggravated family feuds an apparent side effect of Covid-19 vaccine

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As the French government ramps up efforts to expand the vaccination campaign against Covid-19, many continue to resist getting the jab. The situation has created tensions within some families, especially in light of recent announcements of tougher health policies.

On Wednesday, July 21, French Prime Minister Jean Castex detailed the government’s roadmap for countering the progression of the Delta variant. “We know what the key is … We need to vaccinate,” Castex emphasised, as he defended the tighter health measures announced on July 12 by President Emmanuel Macron.

While the Covid-19 vaccines were already a sensitive subject in some families, news that the health pass requirement would be extended to additional activities and that vaccinations would be obligatory for several professional categories exacerbated the tensions, at times even tearing families apart.

‘Complicated family situation’

“Almost everyone in my entourage is vaccinated: my parents, my colleagues… It’s almost embarrassing” quipped Julien, a young father from the Paris area, who, like the other people in this article, asked to use an assumed name.

A senior executive at a large banking group based in Montreuil, an eastern suburb of Paris, Julien feels a bit like an outsider at work: “Everyone knows everything at the office. Once, my boss asked me straight out, ‘And you, are you vaccinated?’ I don’t like to lie, so I launched into a convoluted explanation of my complicated family situation. They look at me like I’m an alien.”

Julien is not opposed to the vaccine; he is even rather in favour of it, if it can help “protect oneself and others” and allow him to continue doing what he likes, such as going to the gym. But he has repeatedly postponed getting vaccinated to avoid conflict with his partner, Inès, who is fiercely opposed to the Covid-19 vaccine.

“She’s convinced that Covid can be treated and that the vaccine is dangerous because we don’t have sufficient hindsight regarding the side effects,” he explains. “She follows the matter very closely and, over time, our discussions have turned into a dialogue of the deaf.”

The situation gradually grew more tense for the couple as vaccinations became available to people of all ages in France.

“For now, I’ve decided to brush the argument under the carpet. Especially since we both had Covid-19 in January, so we have the antibodies,” he said.

“But the situation has become more and more complicated, because our families are not at all on the same wavelength and worry about us. It’s as if we’ve slipped into an all-out conflict. On Inès’s side, they try to dissuade me because they’re convinced there’s a risk. And I give them the same argument: It worries me that they refuse to get vaccinated, especially her parents, who aren’t exactly young. Fortunately, our children, who are five and two years old, are too small to get vaccinated, so the question hasn’t come up, even though they sometimes hear us bickering about it. In our family, the debate has taken on crazy proportions.”

‘Constant self-censorship’

For Sarah, a 37-year-old audiovisual technician who lives in the Hauts-de-Seine department west of Paris, never-ending arguments over the vaccine have also led to an impasse. Following recurring arguments with her father and stepmother, she has decided to take a break: “We’re not seeing each other anymore for now; the health crisis has made any discussion too complicated. The vaccines have become a poisonous issue that’s generated a constant climate of suspicion between us. I had to do something about it, the situation was just untenable,” she lamented sadly, but firmly.

The trouble began last Christmas, shortly before the vaccination campaign was launched in France. “We were supposed to get together for the holidays in Marseille, where my family lives,” she said. “But I was worried about my elderly aunt, who’s frail, and I could tell from talking to my father and stepmother that they were not paying any attention. I myself am a person at risk, because I have an autoimmune disease.”

In the end, as a precaution, Sarah and her brother decided to cancel their trip, to their family’s disappointment. “My father and my mother-in-law tried to reassure us, but I could tell something was weird. They kept insisting that my brother and I come even though the pandemic situation was deteriorating. We found them very cavalier, and they were annoyed by our reluctance. In April, we were able to go to Marseille. It had been nine months since we last saw each other and there, in the midst of the national debate over the vaccines, we realised that the rift had widened. It all came out, what they thought about the side effects of the vaccine, government manipulation… It created a very bad atmosphere and a climate of constant self-censorship to avoid tensions.”

Sarah said she believed the vaccination just exacerbated differences that were already there before. “My stepmother has always been a little suspicious of medication. She treats my half-brothers and sisters with homeopathy, which annoys me, since they catch a lot of viruses. The vaccination issue turned these little anecdotal differences into an all-out conflict. When my 18-year-old half sister and my aunt ask me, I’m not going to lie to them: Yes, I got the vaccine and yes, I think it works. My mother-in-law sees it as an attack, or even worse, a betrayal. All the more so since my half-sister realised that she wouldn’t be able to travel without a health pass and finally decided, against her mother’s advice, to get the vaccine.”

‘Announcements just make trouble’

On July 12, Julien, Inès and Sarah watched Macron announce on TV that the health pass would be extended to more activities and that the vaccination would be obligatory for certain professions. Unsurprisingly, Julien and Inès had a bad evening. “I’m in two minds about the extension of the health pass,” Julien explained. “I understand it might be necessary against the new variant’s progression, but at the same time, I see that the obligation is eliciting even stronger rejection from those around me. Inès doesn’t even want to hear about the health pass – it’s become a matter of principle. More than anything, for me, these government announcements just make trouble.”

Sarah, on the other hand, couldn’t suppress a fleeting sense of satisfaction: “It’s horrible to say, but for a minute I really thought to myself that it served them right, after all our arguments on the subject. But of course, this policy of forcing people doesn’t make me happy. As a society, it’s sad that we’ve come to this. And also, it doesn’t resolve my family problems.” After the latest government announcements, Sarah reluctantly decided to get some distance between her and her family, hoping to be able to reconnect with her father and stepmother later, in a more peaceful context.

Julien says that in light of the health policies, he will not be able to put off getting vaccinated much longer. “After the summer holidays I’m getting vaccinated; I don’t have a choice. If they toughen the measures further, what will we do with the children? With my health pass, we’ll be able to go out and do things… But I will no longer be able to go home!” he said with a sudden burst of laughter.

Inès is a school teacher; a profession that until now has not been subjected to the vaccination requirement. “Only the risk of losing her job might make her consider getting vaccinated,” Julien said. “But I really hope it never gets to that, because I know how distressing it is and my support would be very unwelcome, since I’m in favour of the vaccination myself. For us, there’s no simple solution. We are well aware that our approaches are irreconcilable and that, of course, we must protect our family. The pandemic’s uncertain evolution isn’t making things easier, but I reassure myself as best I can, telling myself that it’s just a tough period we have to get through.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.


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