Vaccine shortage: Serum Institute caught in cross-country crossfire

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on March 18, 2021

AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covid vaccine   -  AP

UK to see a month’s delay in AZ-Oxford vaccine supplies

Serum Institute of India appears to be caught in a cross-country crossfire of sorts, as supplies of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine get delayed in the United Kingdom.

The Indian vaccine-maker has an alliance to make and supply the AZ-Oxford vaccine to low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and others that it has contracts with. But supplies to the UK will be delayed by a month, according to reports in the British media. Of the 10 million to be supplied, only half have arrived, they said.

A spokesperson for Serum Institute said: “Five million doses had been delivered a few weeks ago to the UK and we will try to supply more later based on the current situation and requirement for the government immunisation program in India.”

Even before the vaccines were rolled out in various countries, Serum Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla had told BusinessLine that the world would see shortages early this year, as governments scrambled to procure supplies for its citizens.

A mammoth task

He reiterated this in January, saying that ensuring every person around the world receives equitable access to a safe, viable, and immunogenic vaccine was a mammoth task. “Given the urgency and the massive demand of the population, we must be prepared for an initial shortage globally in the initial phase,” he had said.

Serum has supplied about 66 million to the Indian government and another 60 million to the WHO-supported Covax facility that helps distribute the vaccines to LMICs, according to a source. The Indian government has reportedly sought another 100 million from Serum Institute, the source added.

More recently, Poonawalla has been vocal on the imminent shortages on several forums, indicating that the company had been directed to prioritise the “huge needs of India” and the rest of the world. He had also pointed to the supply squeeze expected as a result of the United States administration’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to scale up their local production of vaccines.

This would disallow companies from exporting raw materials such as single-use fermenters and filters used to make the bulk ingredient for the vaccine, said a person familiar with the development. In fact, top European vaccine makers were also concerned about the impact of the US move, the source said.

The World Health Organisation’s top-brass have also cautioned countries against export bans and similar action that would exacerbate the vaccine shortage that already confronts the world.

Published on March 18, 2021

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