Getting aggressive calls from powerful people: SII CEO Adar Poonawalla
Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has revealed that his decision to fly to London when India is facing a COVID-19 second wave was largely due to the threats he had been facing. The SII is manufacturing doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, labeled 'Covishield'. Facing criticism that the SII is profiteering, Poonawalla also said that Covishield remains the most affordable vaccine.
In an interview with The Times published Saturday, Poonawalla said he has been receiving threatening calls from some of India's most powerful people, who are allegedly pressuring him for vaccine doses. "'Threats' is an understatement," Poonawalla said. "The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can't understand why anyone else should get it before them."
Poonawalla told the publication, "I'm staying here (London) for an extended time because I don't want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can't do it alone." "Just because you can't supply the needs of X, Y, or Z you really don't want to guess what they are going to do," he added.
Poonawalla was granted 'Y' level security by the Indian government earlier this week. The government said that the security was granted in view of the "potential threats" to him. The 'Y' security cover entails a posse of about 4-5 armed commandos of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The commandos will travel with Poonawalla every time he travels to any part of the country.
In the interview, Poonawalla indicated that his visit to London is also linked to business plans to expand vaccine manufacturing to countries outside India. When asked if the UK will be one of the production bases outside India, Poonawalla said an announcement is imminent.
Poonawalla also spoke on the accusations of profiteering as the price of Covishield was recently hiked, calling them "totally incorrect." Covishield continues to be "the most affordable vaccine on the planet," in spite of the price hike, he said. "We have done the best we can without cutting corners or doing anything wrong or profiteering. I'll wait for history to judge," he said.
After the Centre had allowed state governments and private players to independently procure vaccine doses, the SII announced that Covishield will be available to states at Rs. 400/dose, which was lowered to Rs. 300/dose this week. In the private market, Covishield can be procured at Rs. 600/dose. This drew criticism as the Centre has been procuring doses at a price of Rs. 150 each.
On India's COVID-19 situation, Poonawalla said, "I don't think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad." "We're really gasping for all the help we can get," he said. Notably, India reported a record 3,689 COVID-19 deaths and 3,92,488 new cases on Sunday. The cumulative tally has risen to 1,95,57,457, which includes 33,49,644 active cases and 215,542 deaths.