Health Canada approved Covifenz, the first Canadian SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, in February. But so far, Canada is the only country to do so, and a World Health Organization (WHO) official said it's unlikely the vaccine will be approved for emergency use internationally because of the company's links to the tobacco industry.
Tobacco giant Phillip Morris International Inc. (PMI) owns a one-third equity stake in Medicago, the Quebec-based company that developed Covifenz with help from the federal government.
The deal raised eyebrows among public health advocates, some of whom argue the government's partnership with Medicago conflicts with Canada's international commitments on tobacco control.
Notably, Medicago was headed by PMI's former vice-president of regulatory and scientific affairs when the federal government struck the deal to buy 76 million doses of the Covifenz vaccine in addition to investing $173 million in support.
"It's well known the WHO and the UN have a very strict policy regarding engagement with the tobacco and arms industry," said Mariangela Simao, WHO's assistant director-general for drug access, vaccines, and pharmaceuticals, in a media briefing. As such, "it's very likely [Covifenz] won't be accepted for emergency use listing."
A guidance document dated March 2 on the WHO website listed the vaccine as "not accepted."
Some experts have argued that approval of the vaccine would violate the spirit, if not the letter of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Canada is one of 182 signatories to the treaty, which aims to protect public health policy-making from tobacco industry interference, among other goals.
Guidelines on implementing the treaty state that governments should not "accept, support, or endorse partnerships" with the tobacco industry or "any entity or person working to further its interests."
"It's imperative for countries to refrain from colluding and collaborating with tobacco companies," said Les Hagen of the tobacco control advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health.
He and others...