Trump and the coronavirus: fight for the antidote

The federal government is wrestling with the U.S. over the rights to develop a coronavirus vaccine from a pharmaceutical company in Tubingen, Germany.

Tests exist, but where is the vaccine? Corona test in China Photo: Xue Yuge/dpa

The search for a vaccine against the coronavirus is straining relations between Germany and the United States. The U.S. government wants to secure exclusively for the United States a promising vaccine candidate that the Tubingen-based pharmaceutical company CureVac is currently researching and may test on humans for the first time as early as this summer.

The Federal Ministry of Health in Berlin confirmed a corresponding report by Welt am Sonntag on Sunday and stated that the German government, for its part, is also "in intensive exchange" with CureVac. He said there was a "high level of interest" in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the coronavirus were also developed in Germany and Europe.

CureVac itself could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Just Wednesday of last week, the company’s previous CEO, Daniel Menichella, who had traveled to the White House for corona talks in early March, was replaced as CEO by CureVac founder Ingmar Hoerr. Observers in Tubingen assumed on Sunday that a migration of the company to the U.S. had become rather unlikely with this change.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Berlin, however, reacted in a huff. That’s because CureVac, which could now possibly sell the rights to its work exclusively to the U.S., is conducting research on Corona thanks in part to financial support from the German government: "Vaccine development is being driven forward in particular through the international vaccine alliance Cepi, which is also co-financed by the German government," a BMBF spokesperson told the taz. "Among others, Cepi has commissioned the company CureVac to develop a vaccine." Just a few days ago, the German government had increased funding for corona research by 140 million euros.

One vaccine for all

Barbel Bas, deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, was correspondingly outraged: "A pandemic is about all people – and not about ‘America first’." If there is a vaccine, it must be available to all, she said.

But it is doubtful whether this can be achieved in the near future. Because as fast-paced as research into vaccines is, one thing is certain: how many people a vaccine can ultimately be made available to will depend not only on its successful development, but above all on the subsequent production capacities.

According to the World Health Organization, 37 vaccine projects have been launched worldwide against the coronavirus alone – a record. CureVac is one of them. It is hoped that the first approvals could come as early as 2021. By then, successful candidates would have to have proven that they are tolerable, have an immunizing effect and actually offer reliable protection.

The production site counts

The subsequent manufacturing process, however, varies widely, depending on whether the vaccines are live vaccines with vector viruses, dead vaccines with viral proteins, or gene-based vaccines based on mRNA.

This means that a vaccine can only be manufactured in production facilities that are suitable for it – and not arbitrarily elsewhere. "I hope there will be more than one vaccine," says Klaus Cichutek, president of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for approving vaccines. "Monopolization would not do us any good."

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