Dampening hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine by year-end, the chief executive of the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines has said that adequate coronavirus vaccine will not be available for everybody in the world to be immunised until the end of 2024. In an interview with the Financial Times, Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, said that pharma firms were not ramping up production capacity swiftly to be able to innoculate the world population in less duration.
“It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” Poonawalla was quoted as saying. Poonawala had earlier predicted that if the coronavirus shot is a two-dose vaccine, as is the case with measles or rotavirus, then the world would require 15 billion doses.
The family-operated Serum Institute, which is in Pune, has partnered with five international pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Novavax, to develop a coronavirus vaccine and pledged to manufacture one billion doses, out of which it has promised 50% to India. The firm may also tie-up with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute to produce the Sputnik vaccine.
Poonawalla’s remarks on vaccine production and distribution are crucial, in view of the Serum Institute taking on the task of manufacturing shots for the majority of the developing world. Furthermore, his statements have increased scepticism on claims by political leaders who have committed to vaccines by next month amid concerns that huge pre-orders from Europe and US will result in developing countries being bumped to the bottom of the list.
Poonawalla added that the commitment had outdone the capacity of other vaccine manufacturers. “I know the world wants to be optimistic on it . . . [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he told the publication.
As part of its agreement with AstraZeneca, the firm will seek to produce Covid-19 vaccine doses that cost closed $3 for 68 countries and under its deal with Novavax, for 92 countries.
Poonawalla, who is the son of Cyrus Poonawalla, India’s seventh-richest billionaire, minimised the risks over the halt in AstraZeneca trials last week after a participant fell saying, and described it as “very normal”. “We’re doing a . . . raise and diluting equity so that we have enough capital to manage the raw materials and equipment we need in the next one or two years to operate at this scale,” he told FT.
Poonawalla had in Apri ordered 600m glass vials and other particulars to gear up for the mass manufacturing of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, he expressed worries over distribution in India, which is witnessing a rapid rise in the number of coronaviruses infections, and said that the process would be difficult as there is an absence of a sophisticated cold chain system to transport the vaccine safely to its 1.4 billion people.
“I still don’t see a proper plan on paper to do that [in India] beyond 400m doses,” he was quoted as saying.