Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Thursday said his company has spent over Rs 10,000 crore on the production and distribution of Covishield vaccine and added that handling public scrutiny and accountability was one of the biggest challenges for him. He also said Covovax, another Covid-19 vaccine being manufactured by his company, was chosen for multiple reasons for children and is likely to be approved by February next year.
In an exclusive interview with CNBC-TV18, he said, “We bet on the partnership we had with AstraZeneca. We had absolutely no idea which vaccine would work. We have seen scale-up issues with other manufacturers. It has worked out well for us with AstraZeneca-Oxford. We are talking to a few companies for fill and finish. Fill-finish can be done with several partners. Covovax could be filled at Biocon or our facility.”
He said the firm is waiting for an order from the central government to resume the export of Covid-19 vaccines to the world. “The government has placed orders for 200 million doses per month till December for Covishield. By October-end, we should be able to see some exports to resume. We are waiting for directions from the government in light of the existing stocks.
Talking about Covovax and availability of vaccines, he said, “We have submitted data to the WHO for Covovax. We chose Covovax for multiple reasons as the vaccine for children. Vaccine stocks are no more a hindrance. We have over a month’s stock. By February, we should have approval for Covovax for children as young as 2-3 years. The execution was the hardest part from Capex to retail. We have spent more than 10,000 crores on the production and distribution of Covishield. We had to return about $200 million to countries who we couldn’t supply due to export restrictions have been taking to some funds off the record.”
Recently, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had said India will resume export of surplus Covid-19 vaccines next month under the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ program and to meet its commitment to the COVAX global pool, but vaccinating its own citizens remains the topmost priority of the government.
Meanwhile, India achieved a major milestone in its vaccination program against Covid-19 as the cumulative vaccine doses administered in the country surpassed the 100-crore mark on Thursday. Hailing the vaccination landmark as a triumph of Indian science, enterprise, and collective spirit of 130 crore Indians, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country has scripted history.
According to official sources, over 75 per cent of India’s all eligible adult population has been administered at least the first dose and around 31 per cent has received both doses of the vaccine.
The country took 24 days to reach the 40-crore mark from 30-crore doses and then 20 more days to surpass the 50-crore vaccination mark on August 6. It then took 76 days to go past the 100-crore mark. The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with health care workers (HCWs) getting inoculated in the first phase. The vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started on February 2.
The next phase of Covid-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions. The country launched vaccination for all people aged over 45 years from April 1. The government then decided to expand its vaccination drive by allowing all above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1.
(with inputs from PTI)