The decision of one of the UN agency’s biggest supporters is a blow to its strategy to unite governments around the world to fight together against the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of tapping into the WHO’s global immunization project, known as COVAX, Paris will obtain vaccines through a joint program organized by the European Union, the official told Reuters.
More than 170 countries have joined the project, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday, a day before the facility’s registration deadline.
The agency urged governments to join the plan to ensure vaccinations are distributed fairly and efficiently, saying “vaccine nationalism” would undermine efforts to quell the pandemic.
The results of this series of COVAX engagements will highlight the challenge of tackling a global crisis with competing individual interests.
WHO had previously stated that 92 low-income countries were requesting assistance through the program, and about 80 high-income countries had expressed interest, but some had yet to confirm their intention before the deadline.
The agency has struggled to persuade countries to participate fully or go beyond funding pledges and warm words regarding the donation of surplus vaccines for the program, which is co-led by the WHO, the alliance GAVI vaccines and the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness. Innovations.
“France’s position is quite clear: we do not want to buy doses via COVAX”, declared the head of the French ministry who refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the file.
Instead, the official said, France will exploit supplies agreed to by the EU under its joint procurement program.
“Nevertheless, France fully supports the principle of ease,” said the official, adding that Paris will pledge cash to him, without saying how much he would provide.
WHO and the GAVI alliance did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
SOME COUNTRIES STILL ON THE FENCE
Other wealthy countries, including Britain, followed a similar strategy, purchasing vaccines for their own populations while also funding the program.
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 participate. The administration of President Donald Trump opposes the involvement of the WHO.
France’s decision coincides with increasing monitoring of the management of the pandemic by the WHO. France and Germany are also pushing for the overhaul of the WHO, which they consider excessively subject to external influences.
Paris made its decision even though the European Commission softened its stance on the WHO project, giving EU member states the option of purchasing vaccines through both programs.
The EU executive had previously told member states not to purchase vaccines under the WHO program, deeming it slow, expensive and legally incompatible with the EU’s parallel purchasing program.
The Commission has so far committed 400 million euros ($ 475 million) in guarantees to COVAX, but said the terms of its involvement are still under negotiation.
The EU has reached an early purchase agreement 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 using a range of technologies and scientific approaches.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris, Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Writing by Josephine Mason in London, Editing by Timothy Heritage)