France hasn't outlawed criticism of COVID vaccines with new bill

By: Nikolaj Kristensen
February 23 2024

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France hasn't outlawed criticism of COVID vaccines with new bill

Screenshots of the viral claim. (Source: X/TikTok/Screenshots)


The Verdict Misleading

According to legal experts, the recent bill passed in France- not yet signed into law - does not make criticism of vaccines illegal.

Claim ID 2bdab1e6


Several social media users have claimed that France has made it illegal to criticize COVID-19 vaccines. This claim has surfaced in light of a bill on "sectarian abuses" passed by the French National Assembly on February 14.

One post on X(formerly Twitter) sharing the claim amassed over 417,000 views (archived here) at the time of writing. The post claimed that anyone who advises against mRNA, the technology used in popular COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, can in the future be imprisoned in France for up to three years or receive a fine of up to 45,000 euros. "This law means person/s can be fined up to €45,000 or in-prisoned up to 3 years for any criticizing or opposing mRNA Lipid Nanotechnology injections or treatment," said another post on X (archived here) viewed more than 150,000 times. Similar claims about the new French bill were also shared on TikTok (archived here). 

Several such posts include a screenshot of a blog post (archived here), originally in German, headlined "France: Criticism of mRNA will be punishable in the future." The post was published on the blog, which usually shares updates on science and politics, on February 15.

While the details of the bill are still being worked out, the legislation will not likely outlaw criticism of vaccines altogether. According to French legal experts, previous versions of the bill did run the risk of criminalizing such criticisms, but these concerns seem to have been addressed on the bill's way through the French parliament.

In fact

The French government first floored the bill in November 2023 in an attempt to fight sectarian abuses and what it calls "gurus 2.0"—people with online followings who propose miracle solutions, such as "mistletoe injections" or "lemon juice," for life-threatening diseases.  

After having passed both houses of the French parliament, the bill has now been sent to a joint commission where members of the Senate and the National Assembly will try to find an agreement on a final text before it is signed into law. 

After its introduction, a section of the bill — Article 4 — sparked concerns among the public about curbs on criticism of vaccines in the future as the proposed legislation made punishable "provocation to abandon or abstain from following therapeutic or prophylactic medical treatment." 

The article in question was first removed from the bill by the Senate but was reinstated by the National Assembly, though in a reworked form.

Jacques Petit, professor of administrative law and fundamental rights at Rennes University, told Logically Facts that the original wording of the bill did run the risk of making criticism of vaccination illegal, as vaccination is a prophylactic treatment and the offense could be targeted "at general and impersonal speech, for example on a blog or social network." "However, during the debates in the Assembly, the text of Article 4 was amended in such a way that, in my opinion, it no longer makes it illegal to make a general statement hostile to vaccination," he said. 

According to the amended bill, a copy of which is available on the official website of French Senate, "inciting, by means of repeated pressure or maneuvers, any person suffering from a pathology to abandon or refrain from following a therapeutic or prophylactic medical treatment, when such abandonment or abstention is presented as beneficial to the health of the person targeted when, in the light of current medical knowledge, it is clearly likely to have particularly serious consequences for that person's physical or mental health, taking into account the pathology from which he or she suffers (translated from French)" is what constitutes a punishable offense.  

"It is therefore no longer general speech, intended for the public, that is criminally punishable, but pressure or maneuvers aimed at a specific person," said Petit.  

He also noted that the bill, as adopted by the National Assembly, also punishes incitement to adopt practices that are presented as having a therapeutic or prophylactic purpose when it is clear from medical knowledge that these practices expose the individual to an immediate risk of death or injury.

Petit gave two reasons why anti-vaccine speech does not fall within the scope of this offense. "Firstly, because it does not advocate the adoption of a practice, but its abstention. Secondly, because failure to vaccinate does not involve an 'immediate risk of death or injury likely to result in permanent mutilation or disability'," he said. 

Laurent Rousvoal, a lecturer of criminal law at Rennes University, also highlighted the part of the text talking about "repeated pressure or maneuvers" toward a "person suffering from a pathology."  

"These words show that this text is very far from targeting any criticism of vaccination: it is attacking behavior that is very different from anti-vaccination rhetoric (in particular 'pressure', 'maneuvers', and moreover 'repeated'), even if it is misleading," he said.  

Back in November, the office of Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, minister delegate for the Ministry of Citizenship and Urban Development—the authority responsible for preparing the bill text— asserted on the French television network TF1 INFO that "no element in these provisions(of the bill in question) prohibits any criticism whatsoever towards vaccines nor does it call into question freedom of expression with regard to the latter." The minister delegate's office instead gave the example that a punishable offense would be forcing a person who is known to be affected by cancer to abandon chemotherapy.

The verdict

Though the bill initially ran the risk of making criticism of vaccination illegal, it has been amended so that this, according to legal experts, is no longer the case. The bill is still being discussed and has yet to be signed into law. Therefore, we have marked this claim as misleading.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.

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