The French government cried foul Thursday (14 May) after pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said it would reserve first shipments of any COVID-19 vaccine for the United States, saying the move would be “unacceptable” in a crisis that has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide.
The French multinational’s chief executive Paul Hudson said Wednesday that the US would get first dibs because its government was helping to fund its vaccine research.
“The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk,” Hudson told Bloomberg News.
“That’s how it will be because they’ve invested to try and protect their population, to restart their economy,” he said. “I’ve been campaigning in Europe to say the US will get vaccines first.”
His comments drew outrage from officials and health experts, who noted that Paris-headquartered Sanofi has benefited from tens of millions of euros in research credits from the French state in recent years.
“For us, it would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access to such and such a country for financial reasons,” France’s deputy finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio Thursday.
Pannier-Runacher said she had immediately contacted the group after the comments from Hudson, a British citizen who took over as Sanofi’s chief last year.
“The head of Sanofi’s French division confirmed to me that a vaccine would be available in every country and obviously… to the French as well, not least because it has production capacity in France,” she said.
France’s higher education minister, Frederique Vidal, said Sanofi’s plan to give the United States priority access would be “incomprehensible and disgraceful” since a successful vaccine must be “a public good for the world.”
‘EU must be effective’
Sanofi’s chief in France, Olivier Bogillot, sought to play down his boss’s comments on Thursday, saying “the goal is to have this vaccine available to the US as well as France and Europe at the same time.”
But that would only be possible “if Europeans work as quickly as the Americans,” Bogillot told BFM television, saying the US government had pledged to spend “several hundreds of millions of euros.”
“The Americans have been effective in this period. The EU must be just as effective in helping us make this vaccine available quickly,” he said.
In April, Sanofi joined forces with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline to work on a vaccine, though trials have not yet started, and any successful treatment would be available toward the end of next year at the earliest.
Their project is being funded in part by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
It is one of dozens of vaccine projects underway to combat the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China last December.
This month, the European Union spearheaded a global effort to raise about $8 billion for research on coronavirus vaccines, treatment and testing, a move welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But Washington pointedly refused to participate, potentially undermining the effort.
US President Donald Trump has announced he would slash funding to the WHO, which he accused of acting too late on the COVID-19 threat and of mishandling efforts to stem the outbreak.
Trump also said this month: “We are very confident that we’re going to have a vaccine… by the end of the year,” a prediction that few health experts consider likely.