Sanofi walks back Paul Hudson’s promise of early vaccine access for the US, French ministers call it 'unacceptable'
Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s comments yesterday that the US will get first access to the company’s Covid-19 vaccine, should it be approved, were met with swift backlash yesterday in France, both from his own company and a member of the French government.
First, hours after Hudson’s interview appeared on Bloomberg.com, Sanofi emailed journalists a terse statements walking back its CEO’s remarks– sort of. The company said that while vaccines from US production will be mainly preserved for Americans, production capacity elsewhere will supply Europe and the rest of the globe. The technology Sanofi uses for its Covid-19 vaccine candidate is primarily manufactured in the US, although the company said it is expanding capacity in existing facilities in Europe and elsewhere.
“We have always been committed in these unprecedented circumstances to make our vaccine accessible to everyone,” they wrote. “Sanofi benefits from a diversified footprint around the world. We have manufacturing capacity in the US, Europe and all other main regions. The US production will be mainly for the US and the rest of the manufacturing capacity will cover Europe and the rest of the world.”
Then a French official appeared on a radio show and called any plan to give Americans first access “unacceptable.”
”For us, it would be unacceptable that there be privileged access for this or that country on a pretext that would be a financial pretext,” junior economy minister, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, said on an interview with Sud Radio.
Hudson told Bloomberg on Wednesday that “The U.S. government has the right to the largest pre-order” of the experimental vaccine because a US agency, BARDA, has funded its development. “It’s invested in taking the risk,” Hudson said.
Hudson’s comments entered into a simmering battle over who will get a vaccine once it’s approved. That battle has particularly centered on the US and the Trump administration, which has poured over $1 billion into top companies developing vaccines but has eschewed international cooperation — including an $8 billion fund raised earlier this month — in favor of an internal and thus far vaguely defined effort to get Americans inoculated first.
The debate began in earnest in March, when Reuters and a leading German newspaper reported that the Trump administration tried to lure German mRNA vaccine company CureVac to the United States. Although CureVac denied the reports, German scientists and officials responded with dismay and acrimony, condemning efforts for any country to secure exclusive access to a vaccine. The EU subsequently gave CureVac an $89 million grant, in part to expand manufacturing on the continent.
Since then, AstraZeneca has also promised some early access to the UK for the vaccine its building out of Oxford, while some world leaders have called for more universal access. Today, UNAIDS and OXFAM released a letter calling for a “People’s Vaccine” by which the WHO “establishes a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan – that is fully-funded by rich nations – for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies that guarantees transparent ‘at true cost-prices.”
The leading vaccine manufacturers are taking efforts to dramatically expand capacity, but experts warn that any vaccines will come in batches, rather than all at once.
BARDA, founded in 2005 to protect the US from biologic threats, is funding some of the world’s leading Covid-19 vaccine efforts, backing not only Sanofi, but also putting around $1 billion behind J&J and Moderna’s efforts. Over the last 15 years, they have funded both Sanofi and its recombinant vaccine subsidiary Protein Sciences, which is making the Covid-19 vaccine, to shore up capacity to build a pandemic vaccine. This spring, they invested around $30 million behind the Protein Sciences effort.
Protein Sciences’ recombinant vaccines are primarily made at a BARDA-funded facility in Pearl River, New York. The company’s BARDA-funded manufacturing facility in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania will also be used. There is an additional partnership with Unigen in Japan.
In his remarks, Hudson was critical of Europe for failing to back private vaccine efforts, calling the US and China a “model” of private-public partnership and warning, “don’t let Europe be left behind.” The French pharma giant said they are working on expediting the process of getting vaccines to Europe.
“The cooperation we have with BARDA in the US allows us to initiate production as early as possible while we continue to develop and register the vaccine,” Sanofi said. “In the meantime, we are very encouraged to see the mobilization of the EU Commission over the past weeks, exploring similar measures that could expedite both vaccines development and access to the European population. We are having very constructive conversations with the EU institutions and the French and German government amongst others.”
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