Is SII developing vaccine for monkeypox? Here's what Poonawalla said
Amid the rising monkeypox scare, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Tuesday they are in talks with American biotech company Novavax to develop a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for it. SII is also planning to import some doses of Denmark-based Bavarian Nordic's smallpox vaccine that can be useful if there is a larger monkeypox outbreak in India, he told NDTV.
- With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring monkeypox a "global public health emergency," many are now wondering if it will be the next epidemic India should worry about.
- The arrival of monkeypox has prompted health authorities to install surveillance systems and impose a high alert in several states, especially after India reported its fourth case: a 34-year-old Delhi man with no foreign travel history.
SII is ready to use its funds to import a few million shots of the Danish smallpox vaccine, Poonawalla said. He said the Indian government should decide—after consulting experts—whether it must "start stockpiling a small quantity, just a few million doses" like other countries. "I am prepared to import...at risk at my cost... Eventually, the government will have to decide on a health policy."
According to Poonawalla, specific containment facilities are required to handle the monkeypox vaccines, which are currently not available in India. However, he reportedly said that SII has the capacity to mass-produce monkeypox vaccines under license. Notably, the company is the manufacturer of Covishield, the Indian counterpart of the Oxford-Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine, as well as a variety of other life-saving vaccines that it exports globally.
Poonawalla also stated as a vaccine maker with technological know-how, the SII is "looking at talking to partners" and in discussions with Novavax about monkeypox vaccines. But he added they first need to understand if there would be enough demand or if would it fade out in three-four months. However, he cautioned that developing a vaccine from scratch could take more than a year.
Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry has directed airports to inspect all travelers in light of the global monkeypox outbreak. To simplify health screening processes, the ministry recommended that personnel coordinate with departments such as immigration at international ports and airports. The WHO also declared the monkeypox epidemic a global public health emergency on Saturday (July 23), which is the highest level of alert.
Over 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been recorded from 75 countries worldwide, with five deaths as a result of the outbreak. Besides India, Thailand reported one case in the WHO's South-East Asia Region. To note, the monkeypox virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans via indirect or direct contact. Direct contact with an infected person's skin or sores can result in human-to-human transmission.