By Yiming Woo and Ingrid Melander
PARIS (Reuters) – Twelve million French children, who returned to school from their summer break on Thursday, wearing masks, were told by head teachers and President Emmanuel Macron that they should get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Only about 47% of 12-to-17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, a concern for the spread of the coronavirus in general – and for how long classes can remain open.
“You need to keep getting vaccinated, and you need, even if I know it’s a bit unpleasant, to continue wearing a mask in the classroom, wash your hands and keep your distance,” Macron told French kids in a video posted on social media.
He visited a classroom in Marseille, where he chatted with children – with one asking him if nasal swabs for COVID-19 go all the way into the brain.
In the Rodin high school in central Paris, there was the same pro-vaccination message.
“I encourage you to get vaccinated, with the two doses, so that we can have a good year, all together. That’s the objective,” school principal Julie Bouvry told pupils as they arrived for their first day back.
Vaccination is not mandatory. “It’s their choice,” Bouvry said in an interview, but she stressed that if a non-vaccinated pupil is in contact with someone who has contracted the virus, they will need to stay home. “It’s not a satisfactory situation for them, nor for us.”
Eleven-year-old Rodin pupil Louise – who admitted to being a bit nervous for her first day at a big school – said she couldn’t wait to be old enough to get her dose. “I really want to get vaccinated,” she said.
“We have to do that (be vaccinated) so that we’re not all at home in front of the computer as was planned before, so that’s even better,” 15-year-old Aliocha Affaticati said.
The pandemic has meant significant changes for the likes of Matthieu Seguin, deputy director of the Rodin school.
“This is very different from usual,” he said, spelling out safety measures that include air purifiers in classrooms, spare masks for any pupils who had forgotten theirs and hand sanitizer available everywhere.
France, where the daily average COVID-19 contagion rate has slowed, is battling a fourth wave of the pandemic, and the government aims to administer a third vaccination https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-aims-give-third-covid-19-vaccine-shot-18-million-by-early-2022-2021-08-31 to some 18 million people by early 2022, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Lea Guedj, Yiming Woo; Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstaeten, Matthieu Protard; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis)