Adar Poonawalla, In UK, Says “Comments May Have Been Misinterpreted”


New Delhi:

Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla has moved to further clarify comments made last week to British newspaper The Times – in which he spoke about “aggressive” phone calls from influential people in India demanding increased supply of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine.

Mr Poonawalla tweeted Monday afternoon to say he wanted to “clarify certain things since my comments may have been misinterpreted”. 

“… vaccine manufacturing is a specialised process… it is therefore not possible to ramp up production overnight… We also need to understand that the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses is not an easy task,” he said in his statement.

“Even the most advanced countries and companies are struggling…” he added.

On Saturday Mr Poonawalla had told The Times “threats is an understatement”, as he revealed pressure to scale up production and deliver the crores of doses required by the Indian government to vaccinate as many people as possible to counter a devastating second wave of the virus.

On Sunday Mr Poonawalla, who is currently in London with his wife to escape some of the pressure and threats, said: “… I don’t want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone…”

The Serum Institute – manufacturers of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine – has supplied over 15 crore doses to the centre and has received an advance for the next lot of 11 crore doses, which will be delivered in the next few months, CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted Monday.

A 11 crore doses will be supplied to state governments and private hospitals – in accordance with the centre’s new “liberalised” vaccination policy – within the next few months as well, he said.

Mr Poonawalla’s statement is part of a concerted pushback from the centre and SII against media reports alleging that the centre has yet to place fresh orders for COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Hours earlier the centre put out a statement that said such reports were “completely incorrect”.

“… media reports alleging the centre has not placed any fresh order for COVID-19 vaccines. The news reports suggest the last order… 100 million doses with SII and 20 million with Bharat Biotech… was in March 2021. These media reports are completely incorrect,” the statement said.

The Serum Institute responded with a tweet that said: “We endorse this statement…”

On Saturday Mr Poonawalla – who spoke to British newspaper The Times about threats from “some of the most powerful men in India” – said he was facing pressure to scale up production.

The Serum Institute – the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume – is a key global player in the fight against COVID-19, but the demand for vaccines, particularly from India, has put pressure on the facility; last month Mr Poonawalla told NDTV existing capacities were “very stressed”.

SII produces around 70 million doses of Covishield per month. The advance of Rs 1,732.5 crore from the centre will help scale up production to around 100 million doses, but that will take time.

India is struggling to contain a devastating wave of Covid cases; this morning over 3.68 lakh new cases and over 3,400 deaths were reported in 24 hours, leaving an already battered health infrastructure even closer to collapse.

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