India scripted history after it touched the 100-crore vaccination milestone, only the second country to do so after China. The PM tweeted 'we are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of 130 crore Indians'.
It took India 278 days to reach this mark after the inoculation drive was kick-started in January. A little over 22 percent of the country's population has received two jabs, while close to 53 percent have been administered a single dose until now.
Serum Institute’s Covishield has accounted for a whopping 88 crore doses, completely dominating India's vaccination drive.
In this special edition of Sanjeevani, CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan spoke to Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, on this milestone and the road ahead.
On partnership with AstraZeneca, Poonawalla said, “At that time, we had absolutely no idea which vaccines would work. But I had to commit and play some bets, calculated risks. We bet on some very good scientists. We bet on our partnership that we had with them on the malaria vaccine, and also on the science.
It was very important also then, as it is now, to bet on a technology that was relatively easier than others, just to scale up, and that is why we have been able to contribute so hugely to the vaccination program not only in India, but globally too. We have seen cold chain issues, and scale-up issues with other manufacturers. They have really tried their best and they will scale up. But this is why we chose and placed a large commitment in terms of capex and opex at that time with AstraZeneca Oxford and that has all worked out really well one year down the line. So, we are all very relieved and grateful that it has worked out.”
On scaling up production, Poonawalla said, “We are going to reach close to between 220 to 240 million doses in October. Every time, every few months we speak, I am adding another facility; now this is the end of the road. There are no more buildings physically left in my campus to convert. We have made a lot of sacrifices, and (of) a lot of other products, so that we can give India and the world as much Covishield (as possible) and then eventually Covovax. We are at the maximum output of around 240 million-odd doses that we hope to give on a monthly basis between October and November-December. Of course, part of that will be for exports, but again that will be decided by the Indian government as well.”
He added, “We are going to be making a lot of bulk vaccine for Sputnik Light, and Covovax eventually. Of course, Covovax has already started. Maybe, the fill-finish could be done using other partners. We are talking to a few companies at the moment, and I think at the right time they will make that public as well.”
On the fill-finish business, Poonawalla said, “About 30 to 40 million doses a month is what we are looking for fill-finish, and we are already talking to somebody but being a listed company, I can't disclose who that is. At the appropriate time, once we have an agreement, they will make that public. In addition to that, Covovax could be filled at Biocon's facilities, it could be filled at our place, we are still exploring that we have enough fill-finish for Covovax. It was mainly for Sputnik Light that we were looking for other partners.”
He added, “If we do Covovax filling, it will most probably be with Biocon which is our partner in so many other things now. We will wait and see. But the quantum will be around 30 to 40 million doses a month, starting January.”
On the current order book, Poonawalla said, “Government have placed orders of around 200 million doses per month between October and December. There aren't further orders beyond that. That will depend on (how) the booster strategy for India eventually pans out based on science. At the moment, it is around 600 million doses, of which we started supplying some in October, and that is for Covishield. We don't have any other orders for any other vaccines and we don't feel we will probably need that, as we want to focus on most of those vaccines for the export markets. Covishield is approved in most countries — Europe, UK, so many other countries, even Australia, I think so from the Indian citizens who want to travel, and get on with their lives, whether it is business, tourism, students, Covishield is perhaps one of the most accepted vaccine coming out of India. There are going to be some other new Indian vaccine manufacturers as well, who should be accepted very soon once WHO approves them.”
He added, “Sputnik Light and Covovax are still months behind that. And that is why my strategy has been to give Covishield to all Indians and then look at exporting the other vaccines to other countries.”
For full interview, watch accompanying video...