Due to restrictions on exporting its Covid vaccines, India’s Serum Institute is in need of government assistance, according to its CEO, with the world’s largest vaccine producer under pressure at home due to rising cases.
As India’s 1.3 billion people faced an unprecedented new wave of infections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government put a stop to exports of AstraZeneca jabs made by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
SII’s production potential is “very strained, to put it very bluntly,” according to the firm’s CEO Adar Poonawalla, who spoke to NDTV late Tuesday.
“The world needs this vaccine, and we’re currently focusing on India’s needs, and we’re still short of being able to provide… to any Indian who requires it.”
He added that the company now needs additional funding of 30 billion rupees ($408 million) to ramp up production and has requested financial assistance from the government.
“This was never budgeted or expected because we were supposed to export and get funding from export countries,” Poonawalla said. “But now that that isn’t happening, we have to find other creative ways to develop our potential.”
SII, which produces over two million doses of Covishield (the local name for the AstraZeneca vaccine) every day, is supplying the vaccine to India at a subsidised rate of about 150 rupees, which is substantially lower than the price it charges for exports.
“The price set is profitable, but not profitable enough to re-invest significantly in capacity expansion,” Poonawalla said.
SII, which had annual sales of over $800 million in 2019-20, has seen its profile soar since the pandemic, with many countries clamoring to buy its vaccine, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa.
Covax, a World Health Organization-backed initiative to purchase and distribute inoculations to developing countries, has also agreed to supply 200 million doses.
Last week, the country started immunizing people over the age of 45, with the aim of inoculating 300 million people by August. It has given out approximately 87 million shots so far.
For the first time, India saw over 100,000 cases in a single day on Monday, prompting new restrictions on movement and public gatherings in New Delhi and other cities.