France’s Junior Minister for EU Affairs Clement Beaune said the country had not blocked any vaccine and hit back at the claims his country had taken a “nationalist” approach to distribution. Mr Beaune insisted there was no basis for allegations France had sought to gain an advantage for the country’s laboratories and dismissed the allegations as “nasty spin.” Emmanuel Macron’s government has found itself under fire for the slow pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout which medical experts say has been tangled in red tape.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Mr Beaune said: “We did not block any vaccine and we did not have any nationalist approach in putting an emphasis on ‘our’ laboratory.
“Which I also want to say is not true because Sanofi…sometimes when you look at the press coverage you get the feeling that Sanofi is a kind of state-owned company.
“It is not a state-owned company by the french government or state authorities at all. It actually has a majority of non-French shareholders as well.”
He added: “So even this story of a ‘French’ Sanofi lab should be a bit nuanced.”
He continued: “We have taken collective decisions at the EU level, we have chosen and I think it is the right approach to have diversity, a broad branch of vaccines.
“We have not excluded for instance a German lab in this case, Kovax is German. We have just secured a big contract with Kovax. Biotech-Pfizer is German and very successful, fine, we increased the number of orders with Biotech-Pfizer.
“So I think this idea of a preference or a kind of controversy linked to the fact that France would have given an advantage to its laboratory is just untrue. It is very nasty spin.
“Facts are not confirming in any manner this situation. The European Commission has also been incredibly transparent and clear about this.”
COVID-19 has claimed more than 67,750 lives in France, the seventh-highest death toll in the world, while 2.78 million have been infected.
One in every two intensive care beds are occupied by Covid patients and non-essential procedures are still being postponed to ease the burden on hospitals.
Mr Macron personally intervened to demand the acceleration of the vaccine programme and health officials took action to simplify the process but critics complain it is still far too slow and cumbersome.
But there is a growing mood of dissatisfaction across France and many commentators are already suggesting Mr Macron will pay a heavy price when the country goes to the polls next year.
Health Minister Olivier Veran has vowed to “accelerate and simplify our vaccination strategy”.
He said 300 vaccination centres would be operational from next week after initially ruling out such centres.
The original plan had been for the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which began on December 27, to focus on nursing home residents and staff.
But by the end of the first week, France had delivered just over 500 shots.