As France raced to complete a complex blueprint in December for vaccinating its population, 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 vaccines 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 firms based in France.
But within weeks, the country’s vaccination campaign was being derided for being far too slow. In early January, France had inoculated 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 came 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 this month. 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 consulting firms.
On Wednesday, 18 lawmakers from the conservative party Les Républicains sent a letter to Mr. Macron seeking further answers about why McKinsey was hired.
The letter cited McKinsey’s recent agreement to pay nearly $600 million to the authorities in the United States to settle claims that it contributed to “the devastating opioid crisis” as a concern for its involvement in French health matters.
A spokesman for McKinsey declined to comment.
Mr. Macron, a former investment banker, came into office promising to operate one of Europe’s biggest governments with greater efficiency. Its response to the coronavirus pandemic has been criticized inside France for being the opposite, with repeated lockdowns, supply shortages and a failure last summer to put in place a critical triptych of testing, tracing and isolation.
No one is accusing McKinsey of wrongdoing. The company has rolled out its pandemic consulting services in other countries, including Britain and the United States. But to critics of the French government’s strategy, the performance raises questions over the value that consultants add to the process.
Frédéric Pierru, a sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research who has studied the impact of consulting firms, said that the companies tended to import operating models used in other industries that weren’t always effective in public health.
“It’s too early to tell if McKinsey and others are adding value in this campaign,” he said. “But I think we’ll never really know.”