The World Health Organization has decided not to approve Quebec’s Medicago COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, citing the company’s ties to big tobacco.
The decision was anticipated, as the WHO paused the process for pre-qualification of the company’s new Covifenz shot last week. Marlboro cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris International, is a shareholder of the Quebec City-based company.
In a statement to CBC News on Friday, the WHO said the company’s request for emergency use listing of its vaccine was denied, effectively keeping it out of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program, a global vaccine-sharing initiative.
It said Medicago has been informed of this decision, which was made “because of the linkage with the tobacco industry and WHO’s strict policy on not engaging with companies that promote tobacco,” the statement reads.
Medicago CEO and president Takashia Nagao said the cigarette company is a minority shareholder and the WHO’s decision was not based on “the demonstrated safety and efficacy profile of our COVID-19 vaccine.”
Philip Morris Investments, a subsidiary of the tobacco giant, currently holds an approximately one-third equity stake in the company.
The WHO said it is currently exploring different policy options for potentially valid health products that are linked to the tobacco industry and “will come to a decision soon.”
This means Medicago could still be considered for emergency use listing, as well as other products in the future, the WHO said.
Medicago, the only plant-based COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada, would add another 20 million doses to the COVAX alliance.
The vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada in February for adults 18 to 64 years of age.