Vaccine manufacturing a specialised process, cannot ramp up production overnight: SII’s Adar Poonawalla

The CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII) also said the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses for all adults is not an easy task.

With states scrambling to secure vaccines, Adar Poonawalla — whose firm is the main supplier of COVID vaccine in India — on Monday said his firm cannot ramp up production overnight as vaccine making is a specialised process.

Serum Institute of India (SII) has orders from the Government of India to supply 11 crore more doses over the next few months on top of 15 crore already supplied, he said in a statement.

Another 11 crore doses will be supplied to states and private hospitals in the next few months, he said.

He, however, did not give a timeline for supplying the vaccines.

Pune-based SII can produce 6-7 crore doses a month and is reportedly planning to ramp up production to 10 crore by July.

Facing the world’s fastest-growing coronavirus outbreak, India has seen a near collapse of its health care system in several parts as hospitals ran out of oxygen and did not have enough beds to admit new patients.

To deal with the crisis, the government has among other measures, opened up vaccination for all above 18 years. But the procurement of vaccines for those between 18 and 44 years has been left to states and private hospitals.

This has led to state after state rushing to SII, which can meet only a small part of the demand.

Poonawalla, who had last week cited unprecedented “pressure and aggression” for him and his family temporarily leaving the country for the UK, said “everyone wants the vaccine to be available in the quickest possible time.”

“This is our endeavour too and we are making every effort to achieve that,” he said. “We shall work even harder and strengthen India’s fight against Covid-19.”

Serum is licensed to manufacture COVID shots from AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc. But so far, the government has approved only AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine for use.

The government has also approved the homegrown Covaxin vaccine of Bharat Biotech. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine too has been approved for emergency use.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in a statement said 11 crore doses of Covishield are to come from SII during May, June and July. Another 5 rore doses of Covaxin have been ordered from Bharat Biotech India Ltd for the same months.

SII CEO Poonawalla, who is currently in London, said the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses for all adults is not an easy task.

“I would like to clarify certain things since my comments may have been misinterpreted. First of all, vaccine manufacturing is a specialised process, it is therefore not possible to ramp up production overnight. We also need to understand that the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses for all adults is not an easy task,” he said.

Even the most advanced countries and companies are struggling with relatively smaller populations, Poonawalla said, adding SII has been working closely with the government since April last year.

“We have got all kinds of support, be it scientific, regulatory and financial. As of today, we received total orders of over 26 crore doses, of which we supplied more than 15 crore doses. We have also got 100 per cent advance of Rs 1,732.5 crore by the GOI for the next tranche of 11 crore doses in the next few months,” he said.

The health ministry in the statement said 100 per cent advance of Rs 1,732.50 crore (after TDS Rs 1,699.50 crore) was released to SII on April 28 for 11 crore doses while Bharat Biotech was paid an advance of Rs 787.50 crore (after TDS Rs 772.50 crore) for 5 crore Covaxin doses.

Separately, SII in a statement endorsed that statement.

“We endorse this statement, and the authenticity of the information. We have been working closely with the Government of India for the past year & thank it for its support. We remain committed to ramping up our vaccine production to save every life we can,” SII said on Twitter.

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