Serum Institute of India’s (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Tuesday, 6 April, said that SII requires around Rs 3,000 crore to ramp up COVID vaccine production in India as vaccines were being given at highly subsidised rates at the request of the Modi government.
“We are supplying at approximately Rs 150 to 160, in India. The average price is around $20 (Rs 1,500), but because of the Modi government’s request, we are providing the vaccine at a subsidised rate,” Poonawalla told NDTV.
“We need roughly Rs 3,000 crore, which is not a small figure, considering we have already spent thousands of crores. We have to find other innovative ways to build our capacity so we can support our nation in light of the COVID surge,” Poonawalla said.
SII is the world’s largest vaccine maker and a key supplier for the United Nations-backed COVAX programme, which aims to distribute the vaccine equitably throughout the world.
‘Domestic Needs Being Prioritised, Exports to Restart By June’
Poonawalla said that India has been prioritised temporarily for two months, until the surge subsides. “I am scared of what we will have to do, and what will happen. We are going to have to keep supplying to India, and not anywhere else. Because we have to protect our nation,” Poonawalla told the Associated Press.
Poonawalla asserted that he has had to politely refuse and explain to several heads of states regarding the situation in India, and said that they understood since they too faced the same issues.
Covishield vaccine exports will only restart by June, if the surge of infections in India subsides, Poonawalla said. However, a continued surge will require SII to cater primarily to domestic needs, further delaying exports, he added.
Global shipments of up to 90 million doses were delayed, as SII had to cater to domestic demand due to the rising COVID cases in India, COVAX announced on 25 March, according to AP.
‘Hope to Increase Capacity to 110 Mn Doses Per Month’
The company hopes to increase its capacity of Covishield to 110 million doses per month from June, he added. It is producing two million doses per day at the moment.
Poonawalla said that he was working towards making Russia's Sputnik-V. He also said that Codagenix, a single-dose nasal vaccine, would enter trials soon.
Poonawalla explained, “Codagenix is going to be a single-dose nasal vaccine that is a potential game changer. It will take time to develop as we have to make sure the delivery mechanism delivers just the right amount of vaccine around the mucosa to prevent the virus from entering the system,” NDTV reported.
He added, “We are hoping it becomes super convenient to administer the vaccine and also cuts transmission when you do get infected, that's the advantage of the nasal vaccine.”
At present, only those above the age of 45, and healthcare and frontline workers are eligible to get the shot.
The chief ministers of Delhi, Maharashtra, and Punjab, as well as the Indian Medical Association (IMA), have all asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow more people to be vaccinated.
Rejecting such calls, however, Dr VK Paul, a NITI Aayog member said, “We have to focus on COVID-appropriate behaviour and containment. When the time comes to open it to all, then we will.”
India on Wednesday, 7 April, reported 1,15,736 new coronavirus cases, this is the biggest one-day rise in cases in the country ever since the pandemic began. According to the Union Health Ministry data, there are currently 8,43,473 active cases across the country.
Around 8.3 crore vaccine doses have been administered in India since the drive began on 16 January, the Health Ministry said at a briefing on Tuesday.
(With inputs from AP and NDTV.)