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France confident it will avoid paying for cancelled vaccines

Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot believes France will be able to avoid paying for the flu vaccine orders it cancelled. France has cancelled some 50 of the 94 million doses it ordered.


The French government came in for some severe criticism this week, for an apparent case of over-preparedness for swine flu which may yet result in financial losses.


On Tuesday, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot assured the electorate in a radio interview that the government would sustain minimal financial damage despite cancelling 50 of the 94 million doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine ordered from various pharmaceutical companies (see chart).

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Pharmaceutical company

Doses ordered

Cancelled orders

Glaxosmithkline 50 million 32 million Sanofi-Pasteur 28 million 11 million Novartis 16 million 7 million Baxter International 500,000 Source : Ministère de la Santé


So far however, only one of the vaccine suppliers, Sanofi-Pasteur, has waived the cost of the cancellation.


“Sanofi-Pasteur has told us that the order for nine million doses was simply cancelled without any indemnity payments," Bachelot said.


Meanwhile, the case is less clear with other suppliers.


Bachelot says the government will negotiate "very firmly" with these companies and added that she believes France will be able to avoid fines for the rest of the cancelled orders.


As France intends to cancel 11 million doses, negotiations over the remaining 2 million are ongoing. France had originally ordered 28 million doses from the company.


Bachelot was also steadfast in her own defence, saying orders were being cancelled “unilaterally for the general good.”


“These doses were not yet delivered and thus not yet paid for,” she further added.


Amid last summer’s fears of a worldwide A(H1N1) flu epidemic, France had ordered vaccines based on the calculation that most of its population of nearly 64 million would require two doses each. However, only five million have been vaccinated and European health authorities have said one dose is enough.


Bachelot said in an interview on the TF1 television network Monday night that the decision to cancel was due to “a substantial change in the nature of the product,” referring to the belated discovery that only one dose was sufficient.

Opponents cry foul


Batchelot’s remarks come on the heels of intense criticism from the French political and scientific community who lamented what they saw as poor planning and government waste.


A number of parties denounced what it perceived as poor government foresight and sloppy management of the vaccination campaign.


The Socialist Party referred to the incident as an “extravagant fiasco” and demanded a parliamentary investigation. Jean-Marie Le Guen, Socialist deputy in Paris and opposition health spokesman, has called Bachelot’s data into question and has demanded that “the government furnish precise figures on the orders and amounts in question.”


A spokesperson for the majority UMP party demanded that the opposition cease what it called an “inept” line of debate. Meanwhile, Bachelot has justified the excessive vaccine order on the grounds that it was better to err on the side of caution based on the information at hand last summer.


The National Health Oversight Institute (French acronym: INVS) estimated that 198 people in France had died of the H1N1 flu virus as of December 31, 2009.



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