Novartis' Vasella Warns Governments Who Renege on Vaccine Commitments

The head of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis on Tuesday warned that governments now trying to cancel swine flu vaccine contracts might not be dealt with so swiftly in the next pandemic. Chairman and chief executive Daniel Vasella said those that had been reliable partners would be favoured. "The same governments that exerted a lot of pressure on the industry (...) to deliver vaccines very quickly were the same governments that then said 'we don't want any more what we ordered', once they saw they ordered too much," he told AFP.

"If you want an effective vaccine industry you have to be consequent, because the next time that there will be a pandemic -- and there will be another one -- the governments who have been reliable partners will be treated preferentially," he added. Vasella underlined that both sides had to respect legally binding contracts. "If they are only binding for you and not for me, it's not a contract anymore. We don't want anybody to buy something that is not useful," he explained.

Several big nations that rushed to order pandemic flu vaccine from pharmaceutical firms while it was being developed last year have been trying to scale back their orders. Officials have blamed the poor response to mass vaccination campaigns and a change in expected dosage. The French health ministry announced earlier this month that it wanted to cancel an order for 50 million doses of vaccine -- 32 million from GSK, 11 million from Sanofi Pasteur and seven million from Novartis.

Vasella said he understood the pressures that governments were under and was ready to be flexible with outstanding orders. What was "delivered has to be kept and has to be paid. Outstanding orders are a different story. One should be flexible," he added.

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