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German officials to discuss reported US attempt to buy exclusive rights to coronavirus vaccine

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BERLIN - German officials will discuss in crisis meetings on Monday a reported U.S. attempt to secure the rights to any coronavirus vaccine developed by a German pharmaceutical company, the country's interior minister said, amid concerns that the Trump administration was trying to monopolize the market.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, asked to confirm a report the administration was attempting to secure exclusive rights to any vaccine created by the German biopharmaceutical firm CureVac, said he had "heard from several other members of government today that is the case."

Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday that the administration wanted to secure the rights and move research and development to the United States. The vaccine would be developed "only for the USA," the newspaper said.

Seehofer said the issue would be discussed in Monday's regular coronavirus crisis committee meeting, which is expected to include representatives of the Health Ministry and Chancellor Angela Merkel's office.

CureVac, based in Tübingen, Germany, pushed back against the report, saying it remains committed to developing a coronavirus vaccine to "help and protect patients worldwide."

In a statement, the company said it has contact with many organizations and authorities worldwide and "abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology."

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and the acting director of national intelligence, tweeted that the Welt am Sonntag report was "not true."

Germany's Health Ministry did not confirm the report. A spokesman said the government was "interested in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the new coronavirus are also developed in Germany and Europe."

"In this regard, the government is in intensive exchange with the company CureVac," the spokesman said.

Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat member of parliament, said "the American government has committed an extremely unfriendly act." A vaccine developed in Germany should be available to the German population on the front line of coronavirus, he said; no country should have exclusive access.

U.S. vaccine production facilities are poorly equipped to develop lifesaving treatment needed to counter the coronavirus, The Washington Post has reported. Two of four federally funded sites are taking no role, while the other two expect to conduct small-scale testing of potential coronavirus vaccines. President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that the United States is "very close" to a vaccine.

Coronavirus has infected more than 162,000 people around the globe, including more than 3,200 in the United States, since it first emerged in China late last year. More than 6,000 have died, including at least 60 in the United States; the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic last week. Health authorities in the United States and Europe are bracing for a surge of cases.

Seehofer said Sunday that Germany will temporarily reintroduce controls at borders with five of its nine neighboring countries, as the coronavirus pandemic threatened Europe's borderless travel zone.

CureVac CEO Daniel Menichella met with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence this month to discuss a coronavirus vaccine, the company says on its website. Menichella said at the time that he was "very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months."

CureVac is not the only European company that has received interest from the United States as coronavirus takes hold. As the administration struggled to roll out testing this month, Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific, a government partner, acquired the Dutch diagnostic firm Qiagen in a $11.5 billion deal.

Qiagen, which has its main operations in Germany, has developed a coronavirus test-kit that can process results within an hour.

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The Washington Post's Luisa Beck contributed to this report.

For more stories on the coronavirus, go here.

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