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

After previously undisclosed contracts were revealed, the company has become a magnet for criticism in France’s vaccine rollout.

By Liz Alderman

PARIS — As France raced to complete a complex blueprint in December for vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, the government quietly issued millions of euros in contracts to the consulting giant McKinsey & Company.

The contracts, which were not initially disclosed to the public, were intended to help ensure that millions of tiny vaccine vials would make their way quickly to distribution points for nursing homes, health care providers and the elderly. Additional contracts were hastily awarded to other consultants, including Accenture and two French-based firms.

But within weeks, France’s vaccination campaign was being derided for being far too slow. In early January, France had vaccinated only “several thousand people,” according to the health minister, compared with 230,000 in Germany and more than 110,000 in Italy.

As the consulting contracts began to come to light, McKinsey has become a magnet for controversy in a country where an elite civil service is expected to manage public affairs, and private sector involvement is viewed with wariness.

The contracts — totaling 11 million euros ($13.3 million), of which €4 million went to McKinsey — were confirmed by a parliamentary committee last week. The government of President Emmanuel Macron, which has been under fire for months for stumbling in its handling of the pandemic, was forced to admit it had turned to outside consulting firms for help managing the response.

On Wednesday, 18 lawmakers from the conservative Les Républicains party sent a letter to President Macron seeking further answers as to why McKinsey, a consultant to corporations and governments worldwide, was hired to support French agencies charged with rolling out the vaccine.

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