France's poorest see their once-lower vaccine rates rise

In recent weeks, the poorest region of mainland France was able to significantly speed up its COVID-19 vaccine campaign. This is primarily because it opened walk-in popup centers to reach people wherever they live or work.

France's poorest see their once-lower vaccine rates rise

Seine-Saint-Denis is north of Paris and is a multicultural working-class area. It initially had difficulty getting information about vaccines out to a population that includes many immigrants who don't know French or have limited access to regular medical care.

It seems that vaccinations are best given in a visible area with easy access.

Manuela Buval (53), was waiting to see her son, her teenage son, as he received his first vaccination shot in Le Bourget's public park.

She said, "Everyone in the neighborhood walks through this park... whether they're on their way to work or just to play with their kids."

Mona Muhammad (24 years old) said that if the Red Cross had not opened a pop-up vaccination centre, she would have had her children stay at her sister's house on the other side Paris to be able to travel to the large center outside the town.

She said, "But fortunately, I can get my vaccination here in the city centre while my children play in the park."

This area, located on Paris' northeastern edge, saw the largest increase in mortality since COVID-19 was first introduced in France.

The region has now risen three points from its previous position, where 71% of its residents have received at least one dose. France has 57% of fully vaccinated people.

Local initiatives are a major factor in the success story. The Red Cross has vaccinated more than 10,000 people in the region through its walk-in, pop-up vaccination centres.

The majority of the Red Cross's vaccinations in Le Bourget have been given to immigrants and those who are not allowed to stay in the country without legal authorization.

"Regular vaccination centres are like large factories. We take a more local approach. Roger Fontaine, president of the Red Cross Seine-Saint-Denis, stated that our goal is to provide the vaccine to those who otherwise would not have access."

Jean-Baptiste Borsali is the Le Bourget Mayor. French President Emmanuel Macron announced on July 12th that a health card would be required for most daily activities. This has helped to increase vaccination rates in the area.

This pass proves that the person has been fully vaccinated and that they have not tested negative recently or are healthy. The pass can be used to access bars, restaurants, sporting arenas, or long-distance buses, trains, planes, and subways. Many younger people realize the importance of this pass to keep a social life.

Borsali stated that they saw a significant difference in the quality of shots and that many people who visited the center last week agreed that the new health pass requirement was a factor in their decision to get one.

The region has a population of up to 75% who are either immigrants or have immigrant roots. It also boasts 130 languages spoken by its residents. Le Bourget, home to a large Sri Lankan population, is not an exception. Some of its members don't even speak French.

Anandarajah Rishi (42 years old) is an insurance expert and Red Cross volunteer from Sri Lanka. He was called to the pop-up center on Friday during his lunch break to help those in need of translations for their medical forms.

He explained that he always keeps his (Red Cross') uniform in his car for any emergency. "It's crucial that we can communicate in the native language of our patients when it comes to their health. This will establish trust and ensure that we receive their correct medical information."

Anusuyathangavel, a 32 year-old business manager from Sri Lanka, said it was comforting to her and her family that they could communicate in their native language to doctors.

Pop-up vaccination centres play an important role in reaching those without legal documents, allowing them to remain in France. The French health system is designed to offer accessible medical treatment for everyone. However, people without a valid government-issued identification and proof of enrollment in the country’s social security system can't be vaccinated at regular centres.

Fontaine saw the extent of the problem when Fontaine was informed by a person who had been delivering food to the team that Fontaine declined to receive the shot.

We quickly realized that he was illegally staying, so we vaccinated the man regardless. He recounted that he returned the next day with his friends, who were all in the same situation. "We don’t turn anyone away."

Borsali stated that the Red Cross's walk-in centres have been a "game changer" for those who work irregular hours and can't make it to large vaccine facilities during work hours.

Hibach Noureddine (a 50-year old taxi driver) said that taking time off to travel out of town and stand in line for a vaccination shot was an expense they couldn't afford.

The pop-up center was a huge relief for Macina Sira who is a cleaner in her 40s. She said, "It is difficult to go to larger vaccination centers for people who work long hours and have kids like me." They are far away and your children can't go there.

Seine-Saint-Denis has overcome vaccination barriers. However, vaccine demand and inoculation rates remain low in France's poorest lands: its overseas territories.

Martinique and Guadeloupe, two French Caribbean islands, have experienced a surge in infections in recent weeks. This is mainly due to non-vaccinated people. France has sent more medical aid to help with this problem.

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