PARIS (Reuters) - France has canceled over half the flu vaccines it ordered to combat the H1N1 flu virus, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said on Monday, in an effort to head off criticism after reserving too many shots.
France ordered the vaccinations from Sanofi-Pasteur, a unit of Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Baxter International.
The government estimated 94 million individual shots were needed, thinking that everyone would need two jabs for immunity against the illness.
Doctors now say a single vaccination is sufficient, meaning that France, with a population of some 65 million has a massive oversupply and is already trying to sell on some of the surplus shots it has received.
“I have canceled 50 million doses,” Bachelot said on TF1 television.
“These orders had not been paid for or delivered so they are canceled,” she added.
The Health Ministry said it had originally bought the 94 vaccines at a cost of 869 million euros. Bachelot said the canceled order would save more than 350 million euros.
Opposition politicians have criticized the government, saying it has wasted money and helped drugs companies. Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said large pharmaceutical firms were “the big winners in this affair.”
A Sanofi-Aventis spokesman said on Monday that the company and the government had started a review of a contract for 28 million vaccine doses before the Christmas holidays.
About half of the doses had been delivered he said but it was premature to comment on the implication of the canceled order for the company. Some five million people in France have so far been vaccinated against H1N1, health officials say.
The flu virus has killed an estimated 198 people on mainland France, according to data released on December 29, but doctors have said new infections have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
Reporting by Thierry Leveque and Noelle Mennella; Writing by Anna Willard; Editing by Jon Boyle