India’s vaccine shortage will last for months, top manufacturer warns

The chief executive of the Indian Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, warned vaccine shortages would persist for months after Narendra Modi’s government failed to prepare for a second wave devastating coronavirus disease.

Adar Poonawalla told the Financial Times that India’s severe vaccine shortage will continue until July, when production is expected to rise from around 60 million to 70 million doses per month to 100 million.

Poonawalla said the government “took it easy” in January when new cases of the coronavirus declined. “Everyone really thought India had started to turn the tide of the pandemic,” he said.

But India was hit by the latest wave of infections, reporting a record 400,000 new cases on Sunday and several cities and states are on lockdown, including the capital New Delhi.

Prime Minister Modi has been accused of appeasement and prioritizing domestic politics over the health crisis after allowing mass election rallies and the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious holiday that draws millions, despite a sharp increase infections.

India has vaccinated less than 2% of its population, and many states have said they have no more injections, forcing them to postpone plans on Saturday to expand the vaccination campaign to all older people. 18 years or older.

Poonawalla said the Serum Institute had been decried by politicians and critics over vaccine shortages, stressing that the government, not the company, was responsible for the policy. The company has also been exposed for charging state governments and hospitals higher prices than it was offering the central government. Poonawalla lowered prices following criticism.

“I was victimized in a very unfair and wrong way,” he said, adding that he hadn’t increased capacity earlier because “there were no orders, we didn’t think that we had to manufacture more than a billion doses per year ”.

New Delhi has ordered 21 million vaccines from the Serum Institute, which manufactures the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine and will supply the vast majority of the country’s doses, by the end of February, but has given no indication of when he would buy more. Additional doses of 110m were ordered in March when infections started to soar.

Adar Poonawalla: “ I have been a victim very unfairly and wrongly ” © Dhiraj Singh / Bloomberg

Last month, the government advanced a loan to the company to help it convert a production line to make more vaccines.

“We just did it now to remedy the ridiculous shortage that the nation, and obviously now the world itself, has,” Poonawalla said.

The government in April also launched an effort to secure more jabs from foreign suppliers. He granted emergency approval to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and said he would do the same for those approved in the US, UK, Europe or Japan.

However, local manufacturers who have partnered with Sputnik V say they are months away from distributing it nationally.

Experts say the government should have invested in manufacturing capacity and procured enough vaccines earlier in the pandemic.

“It is absolutely essential that you have something to offer, it is common sense,” said Chandrakant Lahariya, a New Delhi-based public health expert, adding that the government has not been transparent about its vaccine policy. .

“There is certainly not a lot of information in the public domain,” he said.

Poonawalla spoke to Financial TImes from London, where he was staying with his wife and children before the UK imposed a ban on flights from India. He said he had received threats from politicians and business figures demanding vaccines, but was not in London for security reasons. The Indian government provided Poonawalla with additional security last week.

Poonawalla spoke to the Financial Times from London, where he joined his wife and children shortly before the UK imposed a ban on flights from India. He told The Times of London he left the country in part because of unspecified “threats” from unidentified senior politicians and business figures demanding access to vaccines. The Indian government provided Poonawalla with additional security last week.

But he told the FT he was not in London for security reasons and was there for normal business, with plans to return to India next week.

The Serum Institute has been sued by foreign governments for failing to honor trade contracts after India frozen vaccine exports in March.

Poonawalla said the company had started “reimbursing” governments that had placed advance orders but failed to identify countries. “But I think if we don’t see a major change in two or three months, I think we’re going to have problems.”

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