France Says It’s Open to Russian Vaccine, Regardless of Politics

France insisted that geopolitics isn’t a factor when it comes to making decisions about sourcing life-saving coronavirus vaccines.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, an official in Emmanuel Macron’s office, who asked not to be named in line with protocol, said the French president and Chancellor Angela Merkel were aligned in welcoming any inoculations that meet European Union standards, and that geopolitics plays no role.

The comment came in answer to a question about whether Macron would consider purchasing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which Merkel has said she’s ready to consider using in Germany. At the same time, the French official noted that the Russian vaccine hadn’t yet been approved by bloc.

France is taking on the lead role in defending Europe’s faltering vaccine program, and in doing so, junior minister for EU affairs, Clement Beaune, has been especially vocal in criticizing the U.K.’s decision to focus on administering the first dose and to rely on the AstraZenca Plc-University of Oxford vaccination, despite doubts over its efficiency on older people.

France’s health authority on Tuesday decided not to recommend giving the Astra shot to people over the age of 65. French skepticism stems from genuine concern, the official stressed, and isn’t down to a public relations war or anything else to do with politics.

The press briefing came after Macron met with representatives from local drug companies on Tuesday evening to encourage them to help produce coronavirus vaccines to boost supplies and end bottlenecks that have triggered shortages across the EU.

Production of the Moderna Inc. vaccine is set to begin in March in France, while the manufacturing of the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech SE jab should start in April, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said in an interview with RTL radio earlier on Wednesday. Both vaccines have already been approved by the EU.

France’s vaccination program has been plagued by delays due to administrative red tape and a cautious approach aimed at addressing anti-vaccine sentiment. The slowness, along with a strategy of giving priority to the elderly and most vulnerable, initially fueled anger and suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry. But polls show a substantial majority of French are now willing to be inoculated.

In a brief interview with French television channel TF1 late on Tuesday, Macron pledged that all adults willing would be able to get a shot by the end of the summer. Of 67 million inhabitants, about 1.5 million have so far received the jab. The government plans to give the first dose to 2.4 million more patients by end February, compared to an initial target of 4 million.

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