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France Hired McKinsey to Help in the Pandemic. Then Came the Questions.

  • February 22, 2021

No one is accusing McKinsey of wrongdoing. The company has strategically rolled out its pandemic consulting services in a swath of other countries worldwide, including Britain, where it secured 1.1 million pounds (about $1.5 million) in contracts to advise the Covid-19 task force and to determine the National Health Service’s testing capacity. In the United States, the firm has been awarded over $100 million in Covid-19 contracts by federal, state and city agencies.

In France, health agencies contracted with McKinsey and other consultants for help in executing its vaccine rollout, scheduled for Dec. 28, after the European Union secured a belated deal with pharmaceutical companies for millions of vaccine doses for member countries in mid-November.

The health minister, Olivier Véran, defended the decision after the contracts, first reported by Politico, came to light in January.

“It’s not the first time that we have called on private partners,” he told the French Senate. He added that McKinsey was helping with “the practical, operational and logistic challenges of our vaccine strategy,” but played no role in policy decisions.

Most of McKinsey’s work in France is with corporate clients. Even so, McKinsey has maintained close ties to a succession of French governments, and some officials have previously worked for McKinsey.

France ramped up its use of consultants in recent years, creating dedicated budgets that agencies could tap to call in outside advisers as needed. In 2018, McKinsey was selected as one of several go-to consultants available for hire by French agencies, in a pooled 100 million euro contract. That meant any of the agencies could select one of the firms without being required to seek bids on the work.

The December contracts, and another in mid-January, totaling €4 million, were from that pooled agreement. It called for McKinsey to help define distribution routes for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which must be kept as cold as minus 80 degrees Celsius during transport and storage. The company would benchmark France’s performance against other European countries. McKinsey experts would also help coordinate a vaccination task force of officials from numerous agencies, with some decision chains involving up to 50 authorities.

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