French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi says its much-awaited Covid-19 vaccine should be available by December – news the government hopes will convince sceptics to get themselves vaccinated.
Made in partnership with Britain’s Glaxo GSK, the vaccine uses recombinant proteins to trigger an immune response – the same technology that is used in one of Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccines.
"This is the technology that was the most efficient a year ago, before messenger RNA,” Sanofi France chairman Olivier Bogillot told France Inter on Monday, adding the method had been “proven for a few years now”.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is the pioneering technology used in leading global Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
Sanofi has begun pivotal phase three trials on its vaccine, which uses a adjuvant – a substance that helps boost the immune response. Phase two trials showed a high antibody responses in all adult age groups.
French minister for industry, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, said the vaccine could be the key to convincing millions of French people who are still reluctant to get themselves vaccinated.
“There is strong support for a French-made vaccine … it’s psychological. I can't explain it, but it’s true,” she told France Info radio.
“If this vaccine can contribute to getting French people vaccinated, then so much the better.”
Cheaper, easier to store
Just over 24 million people – or 36 percent of the population – have been fully vaccinated in France.
The Sanofi-GSK vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than its rivals, will require two initial doses followed by a booster shot.
Despite its late arrival on the market – four vaccines have been approved by the European Medicines Agency – Bogillot said the vaccine would still be useful both in France and around the world.
"We will have to achieve a very high level of collective immunity with the arrival of the variants” he said.
“Today, only 20 percent of the world's population is vaccinated.”
The mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna has never been used in an approved vaccine. It works by teaching the body to make harmless pieces of Covid-19’s so-called “spike protein”, which then triggers the production of antibodies.
Vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, meanwhile, are viral vectors, which use a harmless version of another virus as a delivery system.
Viral vector technology has been effectively used to combat Ebola, Zika, HIV and several other viruses.
Although the vaccines are scientifically different, experts say they should all contribute towards herd immunity.