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10 January 2022updated 11 Jan 2022 10:27am

Why Emmanuel Macron’s war on the unvaccinated makes electoral sense

French voters are increasingly impatient with the unvaccinated – a factor which could help Macron at the polls.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – Nearly half of French voters (46 per cent) support making patients who remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 pay their hospital bills, a poll for the TV channel BFMTV shows, with 53 per cent opposed. 

Few serious figures have so far proposed such a policy, though it would echo a similar plan by Singapore’s government, which as of December will not cover the medical bills of Covid patients who are “unvaccinated by choice”. 

Yet the polling provides useful context for the incendiary comments made last week by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in which he declared his intention to continue to “piss off” (emmerder) the unvaccinated. As the pandemic enters its third year, goodwill towards the unjabbed is in short supply. According to the same BFMTV poll, 47 per cent say they are “not shocked” by Macron’s comments. 

[See also: As Covid-19 surges in Europe, Emmanuel Macron’s bet on vaccine passports appears prescient]

Macron’s war on the unvaccinated is thus a political calculation, possibly as much as a public health measure. The president’s comments last week were designed to appeal to his supporters, who are among the most likely to support a tough line on the unimmunised. They forced his rivals for this year’s presidential election to openly take a position if they wished to criticise his crude comments: an inherently electorally risky proposition, as about 90 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated, in large part because of France’s vaccine passport scheme. 

The strongest opposition to the president’s health pass policy has come from the far right and far left, which tend to agree that vaccine passports are discriminatory and ineffective. “There is no need to uphold a climate of vaccine class war in our country,” the far-right firebrand Éric Zemmour wrote last month, declaring himself opposed to vaccine passports. His rival to the far right, Marine Le Pen, and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, say they will abolish the passports if elected.

But in France, as in many countries where immunisation rates are about as high as they can be expected to go without significant compulsion, standing up for the rights of the unvaccinated can have only limited electoral appeal, because the primary constituency it targets is so marginal. Even accounting for those reluctantly vaccinated because of policies designed to coerce take-up, the share of voters they represent will only be a fraction of that sympathising with harsh rhetoric against the unvaccinated. 

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The president’s comments were crude and shocking. But they may prove electorally beneficial as the campaign for April’s election gets going in earnest.

[See also: Emmanuel Macron’s vow to “piss off” the unvaccinated won’t convince many – but that’s not the point]

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