14ymedio, Havana, 29 March 2022 — The covid-19 Covifenz vaccine has become the first to have its emergency use rejected by the World Health Organization (WHO). The reason: the participation of the tobacco giant Philip Morris International in the manufacturer of the antidote, Medicago, based in Québec, Canada, of which it has a third of the shares.
In a statement sent to The Globe and Mail last Thursday, a spokesman for the international organization said that the decision was made “because of the link with the tobacco industry and the strict policy of the WHO not to engage with companies that promote tobacco.”
Thus, the Canadian antidote has not even passed the prequalification phase, which, of course, also leaves it out of the Covax mechanism, and access to the most disadvantaged countries.
Of little use, for now, are the arguments of Medicago, which insists that the American cigarette manufacturer is a minority shareholder and claims that the WHO’s decision is not based on the safety and efficacy demonstrated in Covifenz, of 71% for all variants except ómicron, according to studies by the company itself.
In fact, the Government of Canada approved its emergency use last February, for people between 18 and 64 years old. The vaccine uses plant-derived virus-like particle technology, and requires two doses by injection, 21 days apart.
Although the WHO has promised to “continue studying” the situation of Medicago and, more generally, how to address “the trend of the tobacco industry to invest in health,” this decision may be an obstacle for Cuban candidates awaiting approval.
The international organization is still awaiting information on Soberana 01, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus, developed by BioCubaFarma, but Abdala, from the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, is already studying in the prequalification phase.
However, if WHO applies the same standard as it applied to Medicago, it will reject all of them, since the owner of the two biotech companies, the Cuban State, also has a tobacco monopoly on the island.
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