The Serum Institute – manufacturers of the Covishield vaccine – needs around Rs 3,000 crore and three months to scale up production, CEO Adar Poonawalla told NDTV Tuesday evening, as a second wave of coronavirus infections threatens to overwhelm the country, and the centre faces calls to make more doses available, and widen the vaccination net, to contain the virus.
Mr Poonawalla, who said in January that the SII had agreed to supply the first 10 crore doses at heavily subsidised rates, said today that the company had make bigger profits than it was now, so it could “reinvest in the production line and facilities” and be able to make more doses quickly.
“We are supplying the vaccine in the Indian market at approximately Rs 150-160. The average price of the vaccine is approximately $20 (Rs 1,500)… because of the Modi government’s request, we are providing vaccines at subsidised rates… It is not that we are not making profits… but we are not making a super profit, which is key to reinvesting,” Mr Poonawalla told NDTV.
“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 added.
Mr Poonawalla stressed that the SII and the vaccine industry was “100 per cent with the Government of India” at this time, and that it was necessary to supply the drug to every Indian. However, he also admitted that production facilities at SII are “very stressed, quite frankly”.
“Nowhere in the world is a vaccine manufacturer providing at such subsidised rates. Like I said… we are making profits, but not enough to reinvest… We are supply two million doses per day. All of it is being given to the government, currently. So far, we have given over 100 million doses to India and exported over 60 million,” he explained.
The Chief Ministers of Delhi, Maharashtra and Punjab, as well as the Indian Medical Association, have all asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow more people to be vaccinated.
At present, only those over 45, and healthcare and frontline workers, are eligible to get the shot.
Shortly after Mr Poonawalla spoke to NDTV the centre shot down that call, saying the focus had to be on vaccinating those who needed it and not on those who wanted the shot.
India has administered around 8.3 crore vaccine doses since the drive began on January 16, the Health Ministry said at a briefing this evening. The ministry also said the country was second only to the United States in terms of how quickly it is vaccinating people – 79.11 million in 79 days (as on April 4) compared to 165.05 million in 112 days by the US.
However, as impressive as that may be, the alarming rate at which new cases are being reported every day – nearly 97,000 today, around 1.03 lakh yesterday and over 93,000 on Saturday – means the vaccination effort has to be at least as rapid in order to stop the spread.