express– French President Emmanual Macron said the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine appeared to be “quasi-ineffective” on people older than 65 — just hours before the EU’s drugs regulator approved it for use on all adults. He said: “The real problem on AstraZeneca is that it doesn’t work the way we were expecting it to. “We’re waiting for the EMA [European Medicines Agency] results, but today everything points to thinking it is quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older.”
His comments came as the EU, AstraZeneca, and the UK engaged in a vicious war of words, with Brussels demanding the drugs company redirect British-made jabs to make up for a manufacturing shortfall in Europe.
On Friday evening, the row escalated further as the EU said it would be triggering an emergency provision in the Brexit deal to control COVID-19 vaccine exports, including the possible introduction of checks at the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent shipments entering the UK.
After fierce condemnation from London, Belfast, and Dublin, the EU performed a swift U-turn.
However, export restrictions will still be in place, with EU authorisation required for exports to a range of mostly wealthy countries.
The regulation sets a damaging precedent for trade restrictions on vaccines and undermines the EU’s credibility as a supporter of open trade, particularly given that only nine months ago, Mr Macron said any vaccine against Covid had to be treated as “public good for the world”.
In May, 2020, Paul Hudson, the CEO of French drug giant Sanofi suggested that the company was planning to give the US early access to any Covid vaccine it developed.
That sparked angry reactions in France.
Mr Macron said any vaccine against COVID-19 must be treated as “public good for the world, and not subject to the laws of the market”.
He then summoned Sanofi’s top management to the Elysée Palace.
In an interview for the FT’s Global Boardroom event, Mr Hudson said it was “news to him” that he had been called to meet the French President and denied that he meant the US would have access to the vaccine first.
He said: “It was never a choice between the US and Europe.
“If our COVID-19 vaccine were to succeed, Sanofi would draw on its global manufacturing capacity as the third-biggest vaccine maker in the world.”
Mr Hudson added: “I’ve been campaigning for European readiness to defeat COVID-19 for months.
“We need to get vaccines to everybody across the world. We’re all going to have to play a huge part in that because if we add all the manufacturers in the world together, there still perhaps won’t be enough.”
France’s State Secretary for Economy and Finance, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, told France’s Sud Radio: “For us, it would be unacceptable if there were privileged access from this or that country under a pretext that would be a monetary pretext.”
Sanofi’s jabs turned out to be less effective than anticipated, though, delaying its possible rollout until the end of 2021.
The company has recently said that it will now help its competitors BioNTech and Pfizer produce their vaccine amid a shortfall in production capacity.
The news that a French start-up has received an order from the UK for 40 million doses of its vaccine this week – with London to now be given priority access to the jabs over Paris and the rest of the EU, has not sparked the same level of fury from the Elysée Palace.
The vaccine is expected to be in the UK by June this year but may not be available in France until 2022.
President and Chief Business Officer of biotech company Valneva, Franck Grimaud, has estimated that the first vaccines will be delivered to the UK as soon as medical trials are complete, which he believes will be as early as June 2021.
However, vaccines are only likely to be available to the EU around the beginning of 2022, even though the company is based in Saint-Herblain, Pays de la Loire, France.
The Council President of the Pays de la Loire region has angrily blamed Mr Macron for a missed opportunity to provide the vaccine to local people.
President Christelle Morançais said: “It is vital that the state proves it has much more agility and reactivity when it comes to supporting and defending our companies at the forefront of fighting the virus.
“France has missed the chance of ‘its’ own Covid vaccine.”
France’s slow vaccine rollout has been the subject of a bitter debate since early January, when it became clear that the country’s cautious approach was leaving it behind its neighbours – the UK in particular.
According to Our World in Data, the UK has vaccinated almost 10 million people, whereas France has only vaccinated 1.7 million against coronavirus.