The U.S. Army is planning to grant an exclusive license to the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. to manufacture and sell a Zika vaccine the Army developed last year.
And that has Rebekah Gee, Louisiana's secretary of health, worried about paying for it.
"God forbid we have a Zika outbreak. We're in the middle of a fiscal crisis, we're already cutting services to people and we're already potentially cutting our funding to fight the Zika virus," Gee says.
If the Army goes through with its plan, she says, Sanofi could set a price for the vaccine at a level that Louisianans just won't be able to afford.
Gee is among a growing number of sublic officials and activists who are demanding that Sanofi agree to show restraint when it sets the price for the vaccine, which was developed by the Army.
She wants the company to promise in writing that it won't charge U.S. buyers any more than it charges in other wealthy countries – like its home, France.
"If the American public funds the life-saving intervention, we need price protections for states that have to foot the bill," Gee says.
Last week, several groups including Doctors without Borders and Knowledge Ecology International appealed to the Army to delay granting Sanofi the exclusive license until the company agrees to reasonable price terms.
Zika is a virus that is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It can cause severe defects to babies born to infected mothers.
Because of its hot, wet climate, Louisiana is a prime target for the Zika virus in this country, Gee says. If there were a local outbreak, the state would want to ensure that every person of childbearing age got vaccinated. And today, there are about 540,000 people of reproductive age on Louisiana's Medicaid rolls, which means the state and federal governments would cover the costs to vaccinate them.
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