The Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine, is one of two jab producing facilities in the country. The domestically-conceived Covaxin is being manufactured by another Indian company Bharat Biotech. A recent surge in COVID infections in India has resulted in supply outstripping the demand for jabs.
Serum Institute of India (SII) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Adar Poonawalla has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of not being adequately prepared for the second COVID surge, in an interview with the British daily the Financial Times on Monday.
“In January, everybody thought that India had started to turn the tide on the pandemic”, Poonawalla, currently in London, told FT.
The Indian businessman lamented that his Serum Institute was being unfairly targeted because of the ongoing vaccine shortage in the country, when it is actually the government’s vaccine policy that is to be blamed.
Enough orders weren’t placed in advance, said Poonawalla. He predicted that vaccine production in India would scale up to around 100 million doses by July, which would be adequate to meet domestic demand.
Poonawalla flew to the United Kingdom just before it put India on the “Red List” of countries because of the spike in COVID infections. The travel ban came into effect on 23 April.
In an interview with another UK daily The Times over the weekend, the Indian CEO said he “escaped” to London after receiving threats from several Indian state chiefs as well industry leaders over the supply of vaccines in recent days.
“Threats are an understatement. The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming”, said Poonawalla.
“They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good….It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply”, Poonawalla reportedly said.
The UK’s “Red List” travel restrictions ban the entry of incoming passengers from India, with those holding British or Irish passports as well as long-term United Kingdom residency exempted from the ban provided they undergo a compulsory 10-day quarantine upon return.
The recent comments by the SII head come as India rolled out the third phase of its vaccination drive, even as many state governments expressed an inability to inoculate citizens owing to the shortage of vaccines.
On 19 April, Prime Minister Modi’s government announced that it would inoculate people aged 18-45 starting 1 May under its “Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy”.
India’s two vaccine manufacturers have been asked to supply 50 percent of their production to the federal government, with the remaining 50 percent to be handed over to the state authorities.
However, many state governments, including Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, and Sikkim among others, complained on the eve of the third phase rollout that they won’t be able to inoculate people in the states due to the scarcity of jabs.