the secrets of the government task force preparing for the arrival of the vaccine

11:00 am, November 22, 2020

A vaccine for the new year? It is not yet a reality; but no longer quite a dream. If Olivier Véran cultivates these days prudence and discretion on this burning issue, some kingpins of the Ministry of Health now ensure, off, that the mission is not impossible. It must be said that time is accelerating. On Friday, the American-German tandem Pfizer-BioNTech, at the forefront with Moderna in the vaccine race, announced the filing of a first application for marketing authorization in the United States.

The day before, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, indicated that the Union could give the green light to these two candidates from mid-December. “We may be able to deliver vaccines in December,” says Ugur Sahin, director of BioNTech. And after Germany, already on a war footing with the creation of centers and recourse to the army, Spain will present this week an ambitious vaccination plan.

An interministerial commando of dozens of people is working hard

So, is France falling behind in terms of organization and logistics, like last winter to order masks, as some actors and local elected officials fear? Or is it just a lack of communication, or even studied restraint? According to several sources, an interministerial commando of dozens of people is working hard to try to complete and on time the key mission of 2021. “They are more numerous than those who piloted the deconfinement”, swears one of their interlocutors.

Read also – Vaccines against Covid-19: what do we know about France’s preparation for the logistical challenge?

A member of the team, sanitary side, confides: “It’s a crazy job, from 8 am to midnight, weekends included, to put everything to music. Things have rushed since the announcements of the manufacturers . We expected them two weeks later! “

Main principles and freezing

The group, called the “vaccine task force”, is led by the senior official Louis-Charles Viossat, who was notably director of Jean-François Mattei’s cabinet at the Ministry of Health and deputy director of that of Dominique de Villepin in Matignon. This “Mr. Vaccin” is assisted by two assistants, also from the senior civil service: Anne-Carole Bensadon, general inspector of social affairs known for having co-autopsied the Mediator scandal, in charge of the vaccination pole; and Ombeline Gras, a finance inspector in charge of supplies.

Having meditated on the failure of the H1N1 influenza injection campaign in 2009, many had sworn to never again offer vaccination in centers and to leave the hand to general practitioners, pharmacists or nurses. But the storage conditions (-70 ° C) of Pfizer-BioN-Tech’s vaccine, supposed to be the most promising (95% self-proclaimed efficacy), could change the equation, at least initially. “Pfizer-BioNTech will be there first, for the holidays. We can have broad principles but, at some point, the storage conditions, in freezers, and the logistics that this implies, will determine part of the strategy”, considers a health manager. A possible acceleration of the vaccine operation across the Rhine, where we push the home product of BioNTech, could also influence the French choices.

The organization, not always squared, is irrefutable, but there are, among them, the best. And everyone is talking to each other and looking for solutions

Another current headache: defining the scientific aspect of the French strategy. Who should be vaccinated first, among the 3 million health and social care professionals and the 30 million people at risk, since not everyone will probably be able to be vaccinated in the first semester? Several organizations are working on this medical project. The technical committee on vaccinations (CTV) of the High Authority for Health (HAS), first, which will publish at the end of the month its final recommendations on priority audiences, before a final opinion on the organization of the campaign.

Hearing of firms

Then the scientific council, currently focused on modeling vaccine strategies or issues of vaccination priority during the next semester. Finally, the Covid-19 vaccine committee – a team of 12 people chaired by virologist and vaccine specialist Marie-Paule Kieny – is also on the front line. For weeks now, all of its members have lived with their noses in the preliminary data of clinical trials, hearing company representatives and seeking to flush out any false promises or security breaches. “Our goal is to help the European authorities in their pre-purchase policy and the French government in the choice of vaccines, testifies the immunologist Alain Fischer, professor emeritus at the College de France. While knowing that the strategies will have to vary according to the characteristics of vaccines. “

Take one step at a time, that seems to be the philosophy of this shadow army. “The working groups are very numerous and are often born over time, observes a person close to the file. The organization, not always squarely, is irrefutable, but there are, among them, the best. world is talking to each other and looking for solutions. “

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