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France to sell off millions of surplus flu shots

Politicians and scientists decry government waste as France seeks buyers for its surplus swine flu vaccines. The Socialist Party and the New Centre, part of the ruling coalition, are calling for a parliamentary investigation.


The stockpiled vaccines for the Influenza A (H1N1) virus have brought on a political fever in France. When French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot declared Sunday that France would sell off its surplus of vaccines, a number of officials from all over the political spectrum were up in arms. The Socialist Party and the New Centre party promptly called for a parliamentary investigation.

For the moment, it has been hard to come by any takers for the close to 0 million extra doses. Only Qatar has made a confirmed order of 300,000 doses, for the price of 2.1 million euros. The resale price is the same as the price France originally paid, between 6.25 and 10 euros depending on the make. Negotiations are under way with Egypt as well, which looks to be ordering 2 million doses for 14 million euros, and France “is in discussions with Mexico and Ukraine,” according to Bachelot. But the French government also faces competition from other European nations with surpluses, such as Germany.


Last summer, when the government was preparing for a flu epidemic, it erred on the side of caution and ordered enough for 100% of the population. They purchased 94 million doses for 869 million euros. By the end of the year, only 5 million people had been vaccinated, according to the latest figures published by the National Institute of Health Oversight.

This disparity between the projections and the reality aroused ire.

Socialist Party deputy Jean-Marie Le Guen said, “Scientists and politicians were made aware of the situation since the beginning, but the government decided to dramatise and give excess media attention to the epidemic.” Some in the scientific community also voiced their criticism. Marc Gentilini, a specialist in infectious diseases and a former president of the French Red Cross, said that between the Tamiflu, the masks, and publicity, “the campaign cost nearly 2 billion euros, which is three times the amount allocated for cancer research spread out over a four-year period.”

Some right-wing politicians also expressed scepticism. A member of parliament for the right-of-centre ruling party UMP, Bernard Debré, told AFP, “The amount invested represents the nation’s collective hospital deficit.”

Less grief outside of France

France is not the only nation that overshot with its vaccine purchases. In Europe, the majority of countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, also find themselves embarrassed by excess – yet there seems to be a lot less disquiet on the matter outside of France.

Uwe Schultz, head of communication for the Land of Thüringen in Germany – which collated all A(H1N1) data for the country – said, “It’s true that it’s a financial failure, but the population understands that health is more important than money.” But unlike France, Germany only purchased enough vaccines for 30% of the population, a figure based on consultations with the scientific community. Schultz continued, “It’s certain that we are in less trouble than France is.”

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