© 2020
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Confusion Over Who Would Get 1st Access To Coronavirus Vaccine Exposes Problems

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To France now and an emerging controversy. The pharmaceutical giant Sanofi set off a firestorm when its CEO said Americans would likely be the first to get any vaccine it develops. The French consider the company a national champion. And as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports now from Paris, the comments plunged France into angst over how the vaccine will be developed and who will get it.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Sanofi's worldwide CEO Paul Hubbard (ph) made the comments late Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg News. He said Sanofi's vaccine would probably be offered to American patients first. That was understandable, said Hubbard, given how much financial support the U.S. is giving Sanofi's research. French airwaves exploded in indignation in an illustration of how sensitive people are over the coronavirus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Priority to the Americans if Sanofi is the first to discover the vaccine - does that shock you? - asks this TV commentator interviewing an expert. The French deputy finance minister called it unacceptable for money to influence access to this vaccine. Head of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, went further.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLIVIER FAURE: (Through interpreter) We cannot allow a vaccine that will have the entire world live normally again be taken hostage by mercantile financial interests.

BEARDSLEY: President Emmanuel Macron said the vaccine is a public good and should not be influenced by the laws of the market. Olivier Bogillot, head of Sanofi in France, tried all day to explain his boss' comments. But he said the U.S. is offering more money and better regulatory incentives to develop the vaccine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLIVIER BOGILLOT: (Through interpreter) A vaccine is very long to develop. It usually takes 10 years, and there is heavy investment. And now we're being pushed to do it in 18 months. The Americans have been very organized and mobilized to accelerate things, both financially and within regulations. Europe has been much less so.

BEARDSLEY: The EU recently organized a worldwide fundraising event where countries, with the notable exception of the U.S. and Russia, pledged $8 billion for a vaccine. Yannis Natsis is a board member of the European Medicines Agency, the equivalent of the FDA. He says the EU talks about solidarity but doesn't show it, and he thinks there will be fierce competition for a coronavirus vaccine.

YANNIS NATSIS: The way that there was fierce competition amongst the EU member states when Italy started asking for protective equipment and they got nothing and the same way that the EU member states closed their borders so they didn't exchange medical supplies, they practically said everyone for himself.

BEARDSLEY: By the end of Thursday the president of Sanofi, Serge Weinberg, appeared on the nightly news in France for his grilling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Will Europe get Sanofi's vaccine a few days or a few weeks after the U.S?" asked the host.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGE WEINBERG: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Weinberg said no country would be ahead of any other. If Sanofi discovers a vaccine, it will produce it in the U.S. and Europe. He said it would be a common good and distributed to as many people as possible.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
WVPB is local news, education, music, and entertainment for West Virginia.
Your donation today will help keep us strong and vital.