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“The veterinary contribution has been largely underestimated in this crisis”

                Faced with the epidemic outbreak in France, the government has just authorized several new professions to practice vaccination against Covid-19.  Among them are veterinarians, who believe they have so far been little considered, despite a special knowledge of coronaviruses.  Interview.

                                    <p>After a difficult start marked by shortages of doses, the vaccination campaign against Covid-19 must pass “a first milestone in mid-April,” promised Emmanuel Macron, with the arrival of several million doses on French territory.

Under pressure in the face of the strong progression of the epidemic, the government is counting on the opening of vaccinodromes in order to reach the target of 30 million vaccinated by the end of June. In this context, the state authorized, on Saturday March 27, several new professions to participate in the national vaccination campaign, including veterinarians.

Very active since the start of the epidemic in France, animal health professionals nevertheless believe that they have had a hard time being heard during this year of health crisis. France 24 takes stock with Jacques Guérin, President of the National Council of the Order of Veterinarians.

France 24: The decree allowing veterinarians to practice vaccination has just been published, can you explain to us what your participation will consist of?

Jacques Guérin: Volunteer veterinarians will be able to register on a platform to participate in the Covid-19 vaccination effort. This participation will be done only in centers, and under the supervision of a doctor. It should be understood that our professionals are used to vaccinating but that this act is not limited to the simple act of injecting. There is a pre-vaccination consultation and post-vaccination surveillance which must be supervised very strictly. We will be deployed on vaccinodromes, where the government plans to vaccinate massively, over extended time slots, and where the need for personnel will be the greatest.

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While veterinarians are happy to participate in this process in the context of the health crisis we are experiencing, the profession responds above all to a request from the government. We estimate at 25,000 the number of veterinarians able to practice vaccination in France, this is a very low figure compared to the 1.2 million health professionals who can fulfill this task. Our participation is therefore above all symbolic because it is not the number that is our strength in this crisis.

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic in France, you have repeatedly offered your help to the government. What was the support of the profession in the context of the health crisis?

The profession’s first contribution was logistical support. In March 2020, with the rise of the pandemic, caregivers quickly found themselves in a shortage of protective clothing. We then donated large stocks of blouses, charlottes or even masks to meet the needs. We also made available our anesthesia ventilators, our monitoring devices (heart rate measuring devices, Editor’s note) as well as our oxygen concentrators, particularly useful in nursing homes which were not sufficiently medicalized to have sources available. oxygen.

This collaboration took place at the regional level thanks to the D system, because the Ministry of Health did not respond to our requests. In France, animal medicine comes under the Ministry of Agriculture and does not have access to the Ministry of Health. The stigma of thinking that because we are treating animals we are practicing medieval medicine is still very much present and has been a real problem in the management of this crisis.

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While we had all the necessary equipment to perform large-scale PCR tests and analyze the results in our laboratories, administrative barriers and reluctance from the medical profession made us lose several months. To my knowledge, some proposals, such as those from veterinary laboratories to manufacture hydroalcoholic gel, have never received a response from the Ministry of Health.

In addition to significant logistical assistance, the veterinarians intervened quietly to reassure their customers about the risks associated with pets and farm animals, and to provide health advice. While there is no particular risk of animal transmission in France with Covid-19, very little information has circulated on this subject and veterinarians have played an important educational role in reassuring and preventing animal abandonment. in this anxiety-provoking context.

One year after the creation of the Scientific Council around the President of the Republic, a veterinarian joined this group. What expertise does animal medicine provide? Do you think this appointment marks a change of course?

First of all, veterinarians are responsible for several species among which contagious diseases circulate – and in particular coronaviruses. As such, they are attentive to weak signals of contamination and know how to manage mass epidemic situations by using screening, isolation and vaccination if necessary. Of course, this does not always work, as we have seen with bird flu in particular, and it is not a question here of behaving like givers of lessons, but animal medicine is very reactive on isolation measures. and barrier gestures, which until now were largely unknown to the general population.

Of course, there are big differences, on the issue of consent for example, which does not exist in our practice, or the last resort option of slaughter, unthinkable in human medicine. However, this debate on vaccine-skepticism appeared to us to be very out of step with reality, while the benefit-risk balance left no doubt about the importance of massively and rapidly vaccinating.

In addition to expertise in crisis management, veterinarians carry out long-term work on epidemics of animal origin. In 2000, the profession launched the international One Health initiative, the aim of which is to create a surveillance network for emerging pathogens to prepare for and better understand the next “epidemic wars”. This is a crucial subject because 70% of human diseases come from the animal reservoir and the destruction of wild habitat increases the risk of transmission between species and to humans. However, until now, this program has been of little interest to human medicine.

We hope that the arrival of a veterinarian within the Scientific Council will help to change the current approach, centered almost exclusively on the saturation of intensive care services, towards a more global and inclusive reflection of the problem. This approach must also be accompanied by structural reforms. Human biology is favored while veterinary biology is discredited; our contribution has been largely underestimated in this health crisis. These areas must be decompartmentalised and their complementarity recognized in order to prevent and deal effectively with future epidemics.


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