• From April 25 to May 1 is European Immunization Week.

  • The opportunity, after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, to take stock of the relationship that the French have with vaccination.

  • While seasonal flu vaccination coverage is progressing, there are still efforts to be made to improve that of the papillomavirus.

For a little over two years, when we talk about vaccination, conversations have necessarily revolved around serums against Covid-19.

Expected, feared, acclaimed or shunned, everyone has their own opinion.

And while nearly 8 out of 10 French people have a complete initial vaccination schedule, those over 60 are already eligible for a second booster dose.

But before having only "messenger RNA" in your mouth, when we talked about vaccine, it was first to enumerate the list of those that we receive throughout our life: DTP, whooping cough, MMR or megingococcus C for toddlers.

Then, for teenagers, the possibility of being vaccinated against the papillomavirus (HPV).

And for their elders, that of protecting themselves each year against the seasonal flu.

So in parallel with Covid-19, have the French lost track of conventional vaccination?

On the occasion of European Vaccination Week,

20 Minutes

puts its nose in their health book.

In toddlers, satisfactory vaccination coverage, but to be improved

In the spring of 2020, confined French people did not go to the doctor's office for fear of contracting Covid-19 there, and many parents preferred to postpone their babies' vaccination appointments.

In the meantime, anti-Covid vaccination has gone through this and life in pediatric surgeries has resumed, allowing childhood vaccination to catch up, and even to progress.

Thus, “the vaccination coverage of the first dose of the vaccine against meningococcal C [which can cause very serious infections in children] increased by 3.8 points compared to 2020, and that of the booster by 3.7 points “, indicates Public Health France.

The health agency also notes "a very slight increase in vaccination coverage of the third dose of the hexavalent vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae b and hepatitis B) compared to 2020 (+ 0.6 point)" .

In France, “vaccination coverage in infants is fortunately very high, often above 95%, underlines Professor Daniel Floret, vice-president of the Technical Commission on Vaccinations of the High Authority for Health (HAS).

Enthusiasm moderated by “remaining points of vigilance, continues the specialist.

If for meningococcal C, the vaccination coverage is above 85% in infants, this is not the case in the upper age groups.

However, the vaccine is recommended for newborns, but also for children, adolescents and young adults, who transmit this bacterium.

It is essential to achieve group immunity, like England and the Netherlands, which no longer see any cases.

And it's the same for measles: despite undeniable progress, the objective of 95% coverage for a two-dose regimen at the age of 2 years has not yet been reached.

However, this is the only way to hope to eradicate this disease”.

Vaccination against HPV still shunned

In comparison, the figures for vaccination against papillomavirus (HPV) infections are particularly low.

Public Health France observes “an increase in vaccination coverage among adolescent girls, up 5.2 points between 2020 and 2021. That is, coverage for the first dose of 45% in 2021 compared to 40% in 2020”.

But “there is still room for improvement”.

Even today, “the figures are problematic, comments Professor Floret, we are very far from the minimum objective of 60%”.

Because although recommended, HPV frightens many parents, who refuse to have their children vaccinated.

Thus, “28% declare themselves more often unfavorable to vaccination than the rest of the population, and to HPV vaccination in particular”.

And more than half of parents (51%) "do not feel well informed about the risks associated with these viruses", according to an OpinionWay study for the League against cancer published this week.

“These results are alarming, they demonstrate the existing misunderstandings about HPV infections and vaccines, worries Daniel Nizri, volunteer president of the League against Cancer.

Prevention and awareness must be strengthened”.

It is urgent: each year in France, “about 6,300 cases of cancers linked to human papillomaviruses (cancers of the cervix, ENT, anus, vulva, vagina and penis) are diagnosed, leading to 2,900 deaths”, deplores the League against cancer.

“Including 1,000 women who succumb to cancer of the cervix,” underlines Professor Floret.

But distrust remains tenacious.

“However, we have real-life efficacy data, thanks to large cohorts in the Nordic countries and in England, which show that cervical cancer can be eliminated.

Across the Channel, it has almost been eliminated in the vaccinated age groups”, insists Professor Floret, who deplores “this French reluctance.

The progress is there, but it is still too weak and too slow”.

The effect of Covid-19 on flu vaccination

On the other hand, under the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination against seasonal influenza has progressed.

While for "people at risk of severe influenza, coverage was 52.6% during the 2021-2022 season, it was only 47.8% for the 2019-2020 season", observes Public Health France .

Who recalls, however, that at the worst of the pandemic, “during the 2020-2021 season, it was 55.8%”.

A notable Covid effect: “at the start, before the arrival of anti-Covid vaccines, people rushed to get flu vaccines to protect themselves at least against this virus, explains Professor Floret.

Any increase in flu vaccination coverage is welcome, but we see that this trend is falling like a bellows: we are still at figures that are certainly higher than before the pandemic, but are already falling”.

A progression still far from “the objective set by the WHO, of 75%”, underlines Public Health France.

The French – but not only – have an upset relationship with this vaccine.

“The flu is very often experienced as a mild illness, which is the case for many people, but the most vulnerable have serious forms and still die from it, insists Professor Floret.

In addition, it is a vaccine that changes: some years, the effectiveness is limited, hence the relative confidence it inspires.

But despite its imperfections, it prevents a significant number of deaths every year”.

Public Health France abounds: “the flu is responsible for several thousand deaths each year”.

A disease against which “vaccination remains the most effective preventive measure”.

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