WHO says it is reviewing its policies after rejecting a made-in-Canada vaccine due to the company’s ties to big tobacco
Former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole is criticizing the World Health Organization (WHO) for approving “less-effective” COVID-19 vaccines produced in communist China while rejecting a made-in-Canada version due to the Canadian company’s ties to a major tobacco company.
“The WHO has approved several less-effective emergency use vaccines funded by China, but is rejecting an innovative Canadian vaccine because of one of their investors…Unbelievable,” said the Tory MP on Twitter on March 25.
O’Toole was responding to news that the WHO has refused to accept Medicago Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine because U.S.-Swiss tobacco company Philip Morris International is a shareholder of the Quebec vaccine maker.
Medicago’s two-dose Covifenz vaccine was authorized by Health Canada in February for adults 18 to 64. In clinical trials, it was more than 70 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infections and 100 percent effective against severe illness, prior to the Omicron wave.
Medicago proceeded to submit an application to have their vaccine approved by the WHO, but by early March, a guidance document was uploaded on the organization’s website, stating that the Canadian vaccine was “not accepted” for emergency use.
WHO did not accept Medicago’s vaccine application because it has a strict policy not to engage with companies that promote tobacco, and Philip Morris owns about one-fifth of the company.
“Medicago was informed of this decision and has been apprised of WHO’s policies on tobacco,” the WHO said in a statement on March 25.
That policy could change, however, as the WHO begins a review of its policy options for health products linked to the tobacco industry.
“WHO is currently holding discussions on how to address a general trend of the tobacco industry investing in the health industry,” the organization said.
Meanwhile, two China-made COVID-19 vaccines—one developed by Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac and the other made by state-owned company Sinopharm—have been approved by the WHO since 2021.
According to a vaccine tracking team at McGill University, Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm’s Covilo vaccines are approved for emergency use in 54 countries and 90 countries, respectively.
Experts have accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of using locally produced vaccines to grow its international soft power, by giving vaccine doses to those that could not otherwise afford them.
Benjamin Gedan, deputy director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center in Washington, called the practice “vaccine diplomacy”—a means to gain more political influence over those countries.
“It’s never encouraging to see the world’s largest dictatorships taking most advantage of this diplomatic opportunity,” said Gedan, referring to China and Russia, in an interview with The Canadian Press last April.
Gedan added at the time that China refused to give COVID-19 vaccines to Paraguay, which recognizes Taiwan diplomatically.
“There have been reports from the foreign minister of Paraguay that intermediaries of the Chinese government explicitly said that Paraguay will not access the Chinese vaccine unless it changes its position on Taiwan,” he said.
Another COVID-19 vaccine created by Tianjin-based biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics Inc., is pending final approval by the WHO before it rolls out to the international markets.
In May 2020, the National Research Council of Canada partnered with CanSino to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the partnership came to a halt after the CCP blocked the shipment of doses for clinical trials in Canada in August 2020.
The folded partnership, according to experts in the intelligence community, was in line with the CCP’s broader espionage campaign, and the knowledge gained from such programs could benefit the Chinese military and security apparatus.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.