Paul Hudson, via Getty Images (Bloomberg)

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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