The vaccine against COVID-19 should be “a global public good” to which everyone should have access—this message was reiterated on Monday by Emmanuel Macron in his video speech at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly. For the French president, it is not only a matter of principle (“Human health cannot be quarreled over, cannot be appropriated, and cannot be bought and sold”) but also a question of effectiveness, because as long as the disease is a reality for some, it will be a threat to all.
France is thinking of Africa, which could become a hotbed of contagion if it cannot have the vaccine due to cost reasons. Macron added that at a time when health workers are fighting against the pandemic, when the people of all our countries are courageously facing the pandemic, we don’t have the right to be divided, we don’t have the right to abandon each other, and we collectively have the duty to be effective. This was his message before the WHO assembly, which began among tensions, especially between the U.S. and China, with mutual accusations and suspicions.
The EU sent a message on Monday to ask the WHO for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of what has happened in recent months with the spread of the coronavirus around the world.
In a joint press conference after a videoconference on Monday, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel made common proposals for the European health sector: they proposed the establishment of a European “strategic sovereignty in the health sector” and the creation of a Health Task Force (a domain that until now has been the responsibility of the individual states, not the EU).
“We strive for a strategically positioned European healthcare industry which will, in full respect of the Member States’ responsibility for their social security and healthcare systems, upgrade the European dimension of healthcare and reduce EU dependency,” says the text of the proposal, meant to address the unpleasant surprises that all European countries have experienced, lacking the necessary protective material and active ingredients for testing due to a dependence on outside producers, especially in China, which also sparked an internal bidding war between member countries to secure their supply.
Macron and Merkel are proposing to “increase European capacities on research and development for vaccines and treatments,” which should make it possible to manufacture a vaccine in the EU, while “ensuring its global access.” France and Germany also stressed the need for the EU to have “common strategic stocks of medicines and medical products (protection equipment, testing kits, etc.)” and to ”encourage production capacities of these products in the European Union.”
The proposal also includes the coordination of European procurement policies for ensuring coordinate orders—also in order to “speak with one voice” in negotiations with the world’s major pharmaceutical companies.
The Franco-German statement comes a few days after the controversy that arose following the statements by the CEO of Sanofi, Paul Hudson, who said that if a vaccine is found, “the U.S. government has the right to the largest pre-order, because it has invested in taking the risk” by financing the multinational pharmaceutical company. On Tuesday, Macron received Paul Hudson and Serge Weinberg, chairman of the board of directors of Sanofi, at the Elysée and gave them a reminder that the vaccine must be “a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces.” Hudson has apologized in a letter to employees, speaking of a “misunderstanding,” although he had explicitly insisted that the EU must become just as “effective” as the US in funding research.
In France, the Socialist Party and the Communists have asked for the “nationalization” of Sanofi, a multinational that is a distant heir to the French company Rhône-Poulenc. But nowadays, even though it retains its headquarters in France, Sanofi’s capital is 60% non-French (while it enjoys a French tax credit for research in the amount of 130 million euros per year).