France will provide funding for an initiative led by the World Health Organization to buy potential Covid-19 vaccines, but will not source shots through the programme, an official at the French health ministry said on Thursday
The decision by one of the U.N. agency’s biggest supporters is a big blow to its strategy aimed at uniting governments around the world to fight the coronavirus pandemic together.
Instead of tapping the WHO’s global vaccine project, known as COVAX, Paris will secure shots through a joint scheme arranged through the European Union, the official told Reuters.
Other wealthy countries, including Britain, have followed a similar strategy, buying vaccines for their own populations while financing the scheme.
Some are still on the fence, including Brazil, which has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks. The United States said last week it would not join. President Donald Trump’s administration objects to WHO involvement.
France’s decision coincides with increasing scrutiny of the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. France and Germany are also pushing to overhaul the WHO, which they see as excessively subject to external influences.
Paris took its decision even though the European Commission has softened its stance towards the WHO project, giving EU member states the option to buy vaccines through both schemes.
The EU executive had previously told member states not to purchase vaccines through the WHO scheme, deeming it slow, expensive and legally incompatible with the parallel EU procurement programme.
The Commission has committed 400 million euros ($475 million) in guarantees to COVAX so far but has said the terms of its involvement are still under negotiation.
The EU has reached an advance purchase deal on Covid-19 vaccines with AstraZeneca and is in talks with Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Moderna and CureVac.
COVAX is intended to procure and deliver 2 billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021. It currently has nine Covid-19 vaccine candidates in its portfolio employing a range of technologies and scientific approaches.
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