France defends equal access to any vaccine as U.S. eyes its own plans

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe

France said on Thursday that the world’s nations would have equal access to any novel coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi, a day after the CEO suggested that Americans would likely be the first in line.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview, said he hoped that any vaccine developed would be shared worldwide.

“I hope that we will all collectively find a way to produce this at high volume to get it all across the world and make sure that every citizen that needs access to a vaccine can get it as quickly as possible,” the top U.S. diplomat told Israel’s Kan 11 News during a trip there.

Scientists are rushing to find treatments and vaccines for a disease that has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide, including more than 84,000 in the United States. Even as nations grapple with the ongoing pandemic, experts are weighing the impact any potential vaccine may have on a disease that has already laid bare the world’s inequities and power struggles.

“A vaccine against COVID-19 should be a public good for the world,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday, adding that “equal access of all” was “non-negotiable.”

He was speaking after Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson told Bloomberg News on Wednesday: “The U.S. government has the right to the largest preorder because it’s invested in taking the risk.” He apologised on Thursday, saying it was vital that any coronavirus vaccine reach all regions.

Hudson’s comments had upset President Emmanuel Macron, an Elysee official said.

Sanofi, which has urged stronger European coordination in the hunt for a vaccine and has U.S. financial support, clarified that any such vaccine would be made available to all.

World leaders in April pledged to accelerate their work on COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus, but the United States did not participate.

The United States also ignored a pledge last week by world leaders and organizations to spend $8 billion to manufacture and distribute a possible vaccine and treatments.

More than 90 vaccines are currently being developed globally, with eight in the clinical trial phase. But experts say the process could take years and may not happen at all.

There is still no vaccine for HIV, which emerged in the early 1980s, or SARS, a coronavirus that hit Asia in 2002.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday reiterated that he believed there would be a vaccine by the end of the year, in contrast to the top U.S. infectious disease expert, and said that he was already working on plans to distribute it.

“I think we’re going to have a vaccine by the end of the year and I think distribution will take place almost simultaneously because we’ve geared up the military,” he told reporters at the White House, adding that more details were expected on Friday.

He also said there would be a U.S. announcement regarding the World Health Organization as soon as next week but gave no other details. The World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision making body, meets May 18 and 19.

Trump, who faces re-election in November after winning in 2016 on an “America First” agenda, has urged a quick re-opening of the U.S. economy despite the lack of approved treatment, vaccine or widespread testing.

Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, on Tuesday said a vaccine would not likely be available by the autumn but that he was cautiously optimistic there would eventually be one.

“It’s definitely not a long shot,” Fauci told a U.S. Senate panel, adding that a vaccine was “more likely than not … because this is a virus that induces an immune response and people recover.”

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