Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU
Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU

Paris — France on Thursday said equal access to any coronavirus vaccine developed by Sanofi was non-negotiable and that no country such as the US should have priority because of financial motivations.

The French government’s robust comments came a day after the CEO of the French pharmaceutical giant said vaccine doses produced in the US could go to US patients first, given the country had supported the research financially.

As the French backlash strengthened, Sanofi, which had already flagged this possibility in recent weeks and had urged stronger European co-ordination in the hunt for a vaccine, clarified that it would be made available to all.

“A vaccine against Covid-19 should be a public good for the world. The equal access of all to the virus is non-negotiable,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter.

Philippe said he had reinforced this message to Sanofi’s chair, Serge Weinberg, who in return had assured the prime minister of the distribution in France of any Sanofi vaccine.

Sanofi has production sites in France. The company is working on two vaccine projects against Covid-19, one with British rival GlaxoSmithKline that has received financial support from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority of the US health department and another with US company Translate Bio that will use a different technology.

Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio it would be “unacceptable” if one country was awarded privileged access because of money.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s comments had upset President Emmanuel Macron, an Elysee Palace official said. A presidency official would meet Sanofi representatives next week, the official added.

“Evidently, if Sanofi makes a breakthrough on a vaccine for Covid-19 and it is efficient, it will be made available to all,” Olivier Bogillot, the head of Sanofi in France, told BFM TV on Thursday.

The controversy has raised questions, however, over whether Europe has been too slow to respond in terms of organising and funding vaccine research.

Sanofi reiterated on Thursday that the US had moved more quickly in this regard. Sanofi added that it was in talks with the EU and the French and German governments to expedite regional vaccine development.

Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, the head of French business lobby Medef, said that Europe could still catch up and ensure it gets access to a vaccine in a timely manner, but that the quick US action had shone a spotlight on its response.

The charity Oxfam said pharmaceutical companies should not be able to decide who lives and who dies.

Officials meeting at the World Health Assembly next week must demand that vaccines and tests are patent-free, Oxfam said in a statement. They should also be distributed equitably to all countries. “Governments must work together to stop corporations profiteering from the pandemic and save the lives of people across the globe,” it said.

Reuters