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France slams pharma giant Sanofi for saying US will get first access to coronavirus vaccine

The French government warned Thursday that it would be "unacceptable" for pharmaceutical giant Sanofi to give any COVID-19 vaccine for the United States first, after the firm's chief said he would give preference to the American market.

France slams pharma giant Sanofi for saying US will get first access to coronavirus vaccine
Researchers in several countries are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Photo: AFP

“To us, it would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access for such and such country for financial reasons,” deputy finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio.

The French government official reacted to Sanofi's British CEO Paul Hudson statement on Wednesday that if its efforts to find a vaccine pan out, he would supply the US government first because “it's invested in taking the risk,” after it expanded a partnership with his company earlier this year.

“That's how it will be because they've invested to try and protect their population, to restart their economy,” he told Bloomberg News.

But Hudson's comments drew outrage from French health associations, not least since Sanofi has benefited from tens of millions of euros in research credits from the French state in recent years.

Pannier-Runacher said she had immediately contacted the group after the comments from Hudson, a British citizen who took over as Sanofi's chief last year.

“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,” she said.

 

France's higher education minister, Frederique Vidal, said Sanofi's plan to give the United States priority access would be “incomprehensible and disgraceful” since a successful vaccine must be “a public good for the world.”

President Emmanuel Macron's office said it would hold talks with Sanofi executives at the Elysee Palace early next week, insisting that any vaccine must be considered “a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces.”

'Will be accessible to all'

After the French government's reactions, Sanofi promised that any coronavirus vaccination would be “accessible to all” – if the EU proved “as efficient” as the US.

“It is evident that if Sanofi discovers a medicine or a vaccination that is efficient in treating the coronavirus, this will be accessible to all,” said President of Sanofi France, Olivier Bogillot, to BFMTV on Wednesday.

 

“It is true that we began out work with the US government very quickly,” he said, adding that the “US government had mobilised (financially) very early on.”

The US had funded Sanofi with “several €100 million” to fund their research on the coronavirus, Bogillot said.

“The EU must be equally efficient to help us rapidly put in place this vaccination.”

Dozens of vaccine projects underway

In April, Sanofi joined with Britain's GlaxoSmithKline to work on a virus, though trials have not even started, and any successful treatment would be available toward the end of next year at the earliest.

Their project is being funded in part by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

It is one of dozens of vaccine projects underway to combat the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China last December.

This month, the European Union spearheaded a global effort to raise about $8 billion (€7,4 billion) for research on coronavirus vaccines, treatment and testing, a move welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

But Washington pointedly refused to participate, potentially undermining the effort.

US President Donald Trump has announced he would slash funding to the WHO, which he accused of acting too late on the COVID-19 threat and of mishandling efforts to stem the outbreak.

Trump also said this month: “We are very confident that we're going to have a vaccine (..) by the end of the year,” a prediction that few health experts consider likely.

 

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body has outlined how Covid-19 rules will change on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules will relax in France as the country ends compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes will take effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 will return to normal on February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 will have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that will begin in February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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