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Who needs competitors when you have customers like this?

Following last month’s post on Swine Flu Lean the situation reached an unprecedented peak of ridicule last night, with the French Health Minister announcing on French television at the height of the audience that :

“I have cancelled our orders for 50m vaccine doses. They have not been delivered, they have not been paid for. So I have cancelled them”.

Well that seems pretty fair, doesn’t it. Sounds like a really healthy supplier-customer collaboration and the type of customer we would all love to have a handful of (just to spread the risk).

It’s true that the figures are alarming. 94m doses purchased, 5m used with the flu outbreak slowly dying away. Admittedly, they’ve tried selling them on the open market – Qatar are taking 300 000 (you get flu in Qatar?), Egypt might take a couple of boxes, but the problem is that the Germans are trying to sell theirs, the Swiss also… Anyone want any cheap vaccines, only one previous owner!!

We are also seeing the same hospital professors who advised the government that it was going to need two doses per patient (revised down to one a couple of months later after the order had been placed) now appearing on television with warnings that “the outbreak is not over, it could be back in February – quick, get out and get vaccinated”. Of course, nobody believes anything anymore, and all of these claims may even be having a negative effect on the readiness of your average Frenchman to go out and queue in the freezing conditions at the local gymnasium to get a jab against something that already belongs to the past.

Who’s going to come out of this very well? Nobody? Who is going to have egg on their faces? The Health Minister, certainly. Her advisors, definitely. What the about the pharmaceutical companies, who have been working 10-day 30-hour weeks (I worked in the industry for 15 years, I know very well how it works) over the past few months to make the 50m that they can now keep in their warehouses until expiry?

I would suggest that they are not going to get too much sympathy. Already accused of making millions of the back of people’s suffering, and having had to endure a couple of recalls (internationally, not in France), they are seen to be tied up with the government on this. Although I would hope that the risk management processes will have foreseen this type of eventuality, and that a great majority of the 50m cancelled doses have not even been manufactured yet. Only the next few days will tell.

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