French pharma giant Sanofi drew the ire of French government soon after it announced that the US would be getting first dibs on its coronavirus vaccine, whenever ready.
The US has emerged as the new epicenter of the global pandemic with over 1.42 million infected cases and nearly 5 85,000 deaths since the outbreak last December. As scientists are racing against the clock to find a vaccine for the pandemic, COVID-19 has infected more that 4.3 million people globally.
French Demand Equal Access to Vaccine
On Thursday, Paul Hudson, the CEO of Sanofi, based in Paris, announced that whenever its COVID-19 vaccine is available, the US will have the first access.
Expressing his anger over the CEO's comments, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted: "Equal access for all to the vaccine is not negotiable." ABC News reported that the French PM's office was "upset" over Hudson's comment.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Hudson said the company's decision was based on the fact that the US had invested in taking the risk. "The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it's invested in taking the risk. The US, which expanded a vaccine partnership with the company in February, expects that if we've helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first," he added.
The US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda) is partly funding Sanofi's Covid-19 vaccine research. "I've been campaigning in Europe to say the U.S. will get vaccines first. That's how it will be because they've invested to try and protect their population, to restart their economy," asserted the CEO.
Speaking to Sud Radio, France's Deputy Finance Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said privileged access for financial reasons was unacceptable.
Sanofi Gets Into Damage Control
Hours after issuing the controversial statement, Sanofi stated that it would make its vaccine available to all countries and not just the US. The BBC reported that the pharma giant has received tens of millions of euros in tax credits from the French government to help its research.
Philippe said he spoke to Serge Weinberg, chairman of the Sanofi board, about the vaccine and received "all the necessary assurances" that it would be distributed in France.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Sanofi said: "We have always been committed in these unprecedented circumstances to make our vaccine accessible to everyone."
Stating that she had contacted Sanofi officials, Pannier-Runacher said: "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."
Urging Europeans to work as fast as Americans, Sanofi's chief in France, Olivier Bogillot, told BFM TV that the goal is to have the 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. 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.