COVID-19 Vaccine: Serum to have 100mn doses ready by December in India

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Beximco Pharmaceuticals has so far made 40 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in Bangladesh

Dailynewsun News Desk
Serum Institute of India Ltd has been aiming to have 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine candidate ready by December for an inoculation drive that could begin across India that same month.

If final-stage trial data show AstraZeneca’s candidate, also known as the ‘Oxford vaccine’, gives effective protection from the virus, SII- which is partnered to produce at least one billion doses – may get emergency authorization from New Delhi by December.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the family-owned firm based in the western city of Pune, disclosed the information, reports TOI.

That initial amount will go to India, Poonawalla said in an interview on Thursday. Full approval early next year will allow distribution on a 50-50 basis between the South Asian nation and Covax, the World Health Organization-backed body that’s purchasing shots for poor nations.

Serum, which has tied up with five developers including Beximco Pharmaceuticals in Bangladesh, has so far made 40 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the past two months and aims to also start manufacturing Novavax Inc’s contender soon.

“We were a bit concerned, it was a big risk,” said 39-year-old Poonawalla. But both the AstraZeneca and Novavax shots “are looking pretty good.”

The haste underlines Poonawalla’s confidence in one of the main vaccine front-runners. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has said he is preparing for the possibility of large-scale vaccinations as early as December and once the UK grants its own emergency license, Serum will submit that same data to Indian counterparts.

Drugmakers are just now getting data that will show how well their vaccine candidates work, but there are plenty of hurdles remaining as the global race to find an effective shot against the pathogen reaches its final stages. AstraZeneca and co-developer the University of Oxford still need to see testing results. And even if their vaccine proves effective and gets a nod from regulators, there are questions over how easily and quickly the shot can be distributed.

Poonawalla reiterated in the interview that it will take until 2024 to vaccinate the entire world and two years to see a real reduction in infections, due to affordability and manufacturing hurdles. After talks with the government, Poonawalla said he is confident in their plans to get initial vaccines to the vulnerable and frontline workers.

He said AstraZeneca has a significant edge over a rival candidate from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, which this week grabbed headlines after indicating it was more than 90% effective in stopping Covid-19 infections. Expensive cold-chain infrastructure is needed to transport and store that vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius.

Poonawalla said it would be “just impossible” for most of the world to use at scale, compared to those his company will produce that can be stored at fridge temperatures.

“I don’t think even 90% of the countries will be able to take it, because you just don’t have deep freezers everywhere,” he said of the Pfizer shot. “In a pandemic, always remember that simplicity is the key.”

Indeed, an analysis by a UK-based campaign group, Global Justice Now, shows that over 1 billion doses have been bought by a clutch of rich country governments, which represent only 14% of the global population.

That tallies closely with UNB’s reporting on the day the news broke. The Pfizer CEO has estimated their capacity to deliver 1.3 billion doses through 2021, including 50 million doses this year if they manage to gain regulatory approval or at least an EUA by December.

New Delhi has set aside about 500 billion rupees ($6.7 billion) for vaccines, people with knowledge of the matter said last month.

Last week, Bangladesh entered into a deal with the Serum Institute to acquire 30 million doses of the potential vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca for Covid-19.

SII and Bangladesh’s drugmaker Beximco Pharma signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for priority delivery of the vaccine doses.

Under the deal, Beximco will purchase five million doses of vaccine per month.