The Centre on Monday refuted media allegations that the government had not placed any fresh orders for COVID-19 vaccines for its nationwide immunisation programme after March this year.
A statement issued by the Union Health Ministry said: “There have been some media reports alleging that the Centre has not placed any fresh order for vaccines. The news reports suggest that the last order placed with the two vaccine makers [100 million doses with the Serum Institute of India and 20 million doses with Bharat Biotech] was in March 2021. These media reports are completely incorrect and are not based on facts.”
The Centre’s rebuttal came in the wake of an interview given to the U.K.-based Financial Times by SII CEO Adar Poonawalla where the latter alleged that his company had been maligned by politicians over shortages and saying the government, and not the SII, was responsible for policy decisions.
Stating that the shortage would continue till July, Mr. Poonawalla was further quoted as saying he did not boost the vaccine production capacity as “there were no orders” (from the government).
In its release, the Central government clarified that “100% advance of ₹1,732.50 crore [after TDS ₹1,699.50 cr.] was released to the SII on April 28 for 110 million [11 crore] doses of ‘Covishield’ vaccine [to be produced] during May, June and July, and was received by them on the same day. As on date, against the last order of 100 million [10 crore] doses for supplies of the ‘Covishield’ vaccine, 87.5 million [8.744 crore] doses have been delivered till May 3”.
The statement said “additionally, 100% advance of ₹787.50 crore [after TDS ₹772.50 crore] was released on April 28 to Bharat Biotech India Ltd (BBIL) for 5 crore Covaxin doses during May, June and July, and was received by them on the same day. As on date against the last order of 2 crore doses for Covaxin, 0.88 crore doses have been delivered till May 3. Hence to say fresh orders have not been placed by the Government of India is not correct.”
In response to the Health Ministry’s statement, the SII immediately put out a tweet. “We endorse this statement and the authenticity of the information. We have been working closely with the Government of India for the past year and thank it for its support. We remain committed to ramping up our vaccine production to save every life we can.”
With a view to clearing up the air, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla also put out a statement saying among multiple reports, it was important that correct information be shared with the public as his comments made in the past “may have been misconstrued”.
“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 for all adults is not an easy task. Even the most advanced countries and companies struggling in relatively smaller populations,” he said.
Stating that the SII has been working closely with the government since April last year, he appreciated the support, be it scientific, regulatory and financial, received by the Centre.
“As of today, we received total orders of over 260 million (26 crore) doses, of which we supplied more than 150 million (15 crore) doses. We have also got 100% advance of ₹1,732.50 cr. by GOI for the next tranche of 110 million (11 crore) doses in the next few months. Another 110 million (11 crore) doses would be supplied in the second channel for States and private hospitals in the next few months,” he said.
“Lastly, we understand that everyone wants the vaccine to be available in the quickest possible time. That is our endeavour, too, and we are making every effort to achieve that. We shall work even harder and strengthen India’s fight against COVID-19.”