Predicting the global clamour for coronavirus vaccines – even as early as six months ago, when several candidates were still in late-stage clinical trials – could not have been “rocket science”, AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria told NDTV Friday night, as the centre responded to Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla’s admission about existing production facilities being “very stressed”.
Dr Guleria’s comment comes two days after Mr Poonawalla told NDTV that the Serum Institute – makers of the Covishield vaccine, which is one of two in use in India – needed Rs 3,000 crore and three months to scale up production to meet demand from both Indian and foreign governments.
“(on manufacturing capacity)… something the manufacturer has to do. They were aware of the (need to) supply not only India but the rest of the world. To say now they will start manufacturing… demand was always going to be huge. Didn’t need rocket science to tell you that even six months ago,” he said.
“… can’t advise on finances but am sure they would have been enough investors ready to support ramping up of manufacturing. The world wants vaccines… we have 50 candidates undergoing clinical trials because people see this not only as something for humanity, but also market value,” he added.
Debate over the supply of Covid vaccines has made headlines in recent days, particularly with Maharashtra – the worst-affected state – forced to close vaccine centres because of a lack of doses.
On Thursday over two dozen Mumbai centres were shut down. Vaccination drives in other parts of the state – Satara, Sangli and Panvel – were similarly affected, Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.
In Pune – the worst-affected district in India for several days now – over 100 centres were shut.
The centre’s response has been to accuse states of spreading panic and not acting responsibly.
According to Mr Poonawalla, the Serum Institute currently produces between around two million doses of Covishield per day, and between 60 and 65 million per month.
The target capacity is between 100 and 110 million, but this will need substantial investment and time, he said, adding that he had written to the centre for help, failing which SII would approach the banks.
On that note Dr VK Paul, a member of government think-tank NITI Aayog and on the national Covid vaccination panel, told NDTV: “We got a specific proposal from SII a week or so back… we will take a decision on this and it will be taken care of. Can say that with authority.”
Dr Paul’s comment will be welcomed by lakhs waiting to get the vaccine in this phase, but the timeline – to scale up manufacturing and then distribute the additional doses – remains a matter of concern, particularly as a dangerous second wave sweeps through the country.
This morning India reported over 1.45 lakh new cases in 24 hours – the fourth straight day with over one lakh new cases. The number of active cases has skyrocketed to over 10 lakh.
The increasing number of Covid cases in India also underline the need to speed up vaccination and widen the vaccine net – both of which have been flagged by experts and state governments, and for both of which courses increased supply of vaccines are needed.
Mr Poonawalla made that point this week, saying that even if SII could immediately scale up , the extent of global demand would require all vaccine makers to similarly ramp up production.