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India in a comfortable place on vaccine supplies, says SII chief

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on October 21, 2021

SII has supplied a lion’s share of the 100 crore-plus vaccines in the country

As India crossed 100 crore vaccinations it was a moment of relief and joy not only for him but also for others working at the vaccine-maker, said Serum Institute’s CEO Adar Poonawalla.

It has been an 18-month journey of decisions involving risky investments, high-pressure situations, and threats, too, leading to today’s milestone, where Serum Institute of India (SII) has done much of the heavy-lifting.

Of the 100 crore-plus vaccines given across India till date, over 88 crore is Covishield, the AstraZeneca-OxfordUniversity vaccine produced by Pune’s SII.

Giving an insight into the efforts put in, Poonawalla told BusinessLine that five production facilities were consolidated and focussed on making Covishield. At present, production stands at 220-240 million doses, and it will be so over the next few months, he said, indicating that supplies were enough to cover the domestic vaccination programme and booster doses if India decides to go in for a booster dose for its vulnerable population at a later date.

Pointing out that there were more vaccine stocks than the vaccination rate, he said the country was in a “good and comfortable” situation that would only improve as other vaccine-makers also increase supplies.

Bharat Biotect’s Covaxin and the Russian vaccine Sputnik V from the Gamaleya Institute (distributed in India by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories) are the two other Covid vaccines being given in the country.

The government’s immunisation plan, though, also includes Zydus Cadila’s needle-free DNA vaccine, besides those from foreign companies that include Johnson and Johnson and Moderna (brought in by Cipla), though these are still to be rolled out.

Exports shortly

SII has alliances to make and distribute American company Novavax’s Covid vaccine. And the companies have made submissions to the World Health Organization for an emergency-use listing. This would rely on approvals from the Drug Controller General of India, he explained, adding that a decision from the DCGI was expected around December-January. Since there is no licensure yet, there was no reason to stockpile it, he said, adding that these vaccine would be for the export market.

Similarly, Sputnik Light (the single-dose vaccine from Gamaleya) is also being made by SII. A nasal vaccine from Codagenix is also part of SII’s Covid-19 kitty, but this is still a year away, he says, adding that it would be a game-changer of sorts.

While these vaccines go through different stages of trials and regulatory processes, respectively, Poonwalla indicates exports from India could happen in the next two months, depending on the government’s decision. Serum had found itself in a spot when vaccine exports were restricted earlier this year, following the surge of Coronavirus cases in the country.

He said he paid back a $100 million to different countries since orders could not be fulfilled.

Published on October 21, 2021

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