Coronavirus vaccine won't be available for all before 2024-end: Poonawalla
Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), that has taken up the mammoth task of mass-producing the vaccine for novel coronavirus, asserted that the vaccine will not be available for the entire world before the end of 2024. The head honcho of the world's largest vaccine manufacturer said pharma giants haven't ramped up production to inoculate the globe quickly.
Poonawalla said the world will need about 15 billion doses, if the coronavirus vaccine program would require two doses, like the one for measles. "It's going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet," Poonawalla, whose Pune-based firm produces 1.5 billion doses of vaccines for polio, measles, and influenza for nearly 170 countries, said.
"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 Financial Times in an interview, fanning concerns that countries like the US would push poorer countries to the rear-end of the queue.
Poonawalla also cast doubts on India's plan, reminding that in the absence of a "sophisticated cold chain system," transporting doses to 1.4 billion people safely is challenging. "I still don't see a proper plan to do that beyond 400 million doses. You don't want a situation with the vaccine where you have the capacity for your country but you can't consume it," he said.
Tellingly, Poonawalla's assessment of India's plan for distribution starkly contradicts Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day words. From the ramparts of Red Fort, he had said three vaccines were in different stages of testing, and the plan for production was ready. "How the vaccine will reach every Indian in the least amount of time — we have a roadmap ready," he had announced.
Notably, SII has partnered with UK-pharma giant AstraZeneca, which is developing a COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford. SII has also signed a deal with American biotech company Novavax, for manufacturing and commercializing the shot once it is ready. It is likely to enter another agreement with Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology to manufacture the Sputnik V vaccine.
However, last week, SII paused the trial of the Oxford vaccine in India, after getting an earful from Drugs Controller General of India. The regulator was miffed that the firm didn't inform about AstraZeneca's global pause after a volunteer fell ill. When questioned, Poonawalla said it was "very normal." Over the weekend, the late-stage trials were resumed by AstraZeneca after a green signal.