Dispatch: Paris

Living with COVID in France.


From time to time, The Times will feature dispatches from Islanders around the globe. This week, Nicolas Ruderman writes again from Paris. Ruderman has spent his summers on East Chop since he was born (19 years now). He is Franco-American, and during the school year, lives in Paris. He is a second-year student at l’Ecole W, a media school. He is also a second-year student in acting at the Cours Florent.

Last October, after the virus was fairly contained over the summer, my grandfather and I got COVID at the same time.

My symptoms lasted two days: high fever and body aches. My grandfather, on the other hand, followed the typical coronavirus progress: He was barely sick for the first five days, with mild fatigue and shortness of breath. On day 10, as his body was fighting the infection, his immune inflammatory response caused him distress. We were fortunate not to end up in the hospital.

By the time we were sick, much advancement had been made on treating the virus in France.

Since the first wave occurred, when France was in lockdown (April to May 2020), much progress had been made in identifying the different stages of the sickness, and therefore treating patients accordingly while keeping as many as possible out of the hospital.

My grandfather was given an antiviral medicine to keep the inflammatory response under control, and some oxygen for his breathing difficulties. A week later he was better. Three weeks after that, he was back to riding his bicycle. In my case, I simply took acetaminophen for aches and fever.

We were lucky. So many people have suffered terrible losses. There is no predicting how people react to the virus. The best way to protect oneself, and others around you, still remains wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands.

Today there is hope with the vaccines. In the U.S., the rollout is extensive. This has not yet happened in France, because people are skeptical when it comes to vaccines, and we are facing a supply shortage (to this date, approximately 7,798,091 people have received a first dose, and roughly 2,655,443, both doses of the vaccine). The RNA vaccines (BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna) are reserved for people over 75 in France. The more traditional AstraZeneca vaccine is available for people over 50. So far, nothing is planned for people under 50. Young adults and children will not get vaccinated.

We still have a long way to go. Even doctors and nurses are reluctant to get the vaccine. Only one-third have as of now. Our health minister, Olivier Véran, is considering making it mandatory, if they do not set an example. Very few public figures have taken the lead and been vaccinated publicly. President Macron, who has had COVID, is too young to qualify (he is only 43). As the B.1.1.7 (“The U.K. variant”) coronavirus strain is taking over (roughly 60 percent of all infections today), people may decide to get vaccinated after all. There is hope that it will catch on and the undecided will end up getting vaccinated for the good of the community, in order to stop the virus from circulating.

The talk of a vaccination passport may also push people to get vaccinated. At this time, France is reticent about adopting one, as it may cause a divide in the country that has gone through so much already during President Macron’s term (the riots of the anti-establishment, popular, working class “Gilets Jaunes” [Yellow Vests], strikes against pension reform, although the pension system as it stands today is unsustainable). A vaccine passport, beyond its ethical and privacy questions, is seen as discriminatory.

In addition to the vaccines, the French government has recently bought doses of the monoclonal treatment, similar to what former President Donald Trump took.

In France, all these treatments and hospital stays are covered by our healthcare.

As I woke up this morning and listened to the radio, I heard that pharmaceutical giant Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have developed a promising medication which reduces the viral load of the virus.

Could this impact the behavior of the French toward getting vaccinated?

To be continued …