Adar Poonawalla’s Serum Institute of India (SII), the maker of coronavirus vaccine Covishield in India, has reportedly been served a legal notice by AstraZeneca over vaccine supply delays.
The news emerged a day after Mr Poonawalla admitted in an interview to NDTV that existing production capacity to manufacture Covishield, one of the two vaccines being administered in India, is “very stressed, to put it frankly”.
He also said the government’s pause on major Covishield shipments to other countries and the ‘first claim’ deal with India were difficult to explain abroad, where the vaccine was sold at a substantially higher cost per dose.
“The globe needs this vaccine and we are prioritising the needs of India at the moment and we are still short of being able to supply… to every Indian that needs it,” Mr Poonawalla said.
Last week the centre said there was no outright ban on the export of vaccines.
Mr Poonawalla said the SII, which produces between 60 and 65 million doses per month presently, has so far given around 100 million doses to the centre and exported 60 million.
He said SII needed Rs 3,000 crore – a shortfall linked to the deal with the government to sell a doses at a heavy discount – to ramp up capacity needed to scale up production by June.
Serum, which produces over two million doses of Covishield — the local name for the AstraZeneca vaccine — a day, is providing the shot at a subsidised rate of around 150 rupees to India, significantly less than what it charges for exports.
“We’re supplying in India at approximately Rs 150-160. The average price is around $20 (Rs 1,500)… (but) because of the Modi government’s request, we are providing at subsidised rates… It is not that we’re not making profits… but we are not making super profits, which is key to re-investing,” he said.
“This (the amount needed) would be roughly Rs 3,000 crores. The process takes 85 days, so it would be just under three months before we scale up operations,” he said, adding that he had written to the centre on this subject, failing which SII would approach the banks for a loan.
Mr Poonawalla said that even if SII could increase its capacity – to around 100 million doses per month – India needed other manufacturers to also scale up in order to meet requirements.