Serum Institute of India (SII), the busiest vaccine maker in the world as measured by volume in production, apparently now is too busy. And politics could contribute to that pace further as just recently the demand for any coronavirus vaccine in India skyrocketed due to growing numbers of SARS-CoV-2 cases and the Indian government, which placed a ban on all exports of vaccine product produced in the country. As it turns out, India is a major exporter of vaccine product to the rest of the world. The BBC reported by March 24 that India had exported 60 million doses to 76 countries, mostly as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Covax facility. As a consequence of this export ban initiated late last month, BBC wrote, “Some 190 countries under the Covax scheme are likely to be affected.” A majority of vaccines now in use in India are “Covishield,” which is the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine made by SII and Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. AstraZeneca partnered with SII to produce the AZD1222 or “Oxford” vaccine, which would then be produced in India and of course distributed around the world. Now SII is in delay, and AstraZeneca has served the company with a legal notice. Could litigation be next?
COVID-19 Come to India
Yes, COVID-19 has been circulating throughout India since the beginning of the pandemic. For whatever reason, the world’s second largest population didn’t experience huge amounts of cases initially. It wasn’t till September 2020 that the pandemic arrived like a tsunami, with cases averaging by September 16 at over 97,000 per day. Cases then waned for months till March which for whatever reason cases have just exploded, now totaling over 120,000 per day.
India ranks third behind Brazil and the United States now as epicenters in the COVID-19 pandemic with a total of 12.9 million cases and approximately 166.8 thousand deaths.
A Temporary ‘Squeeze’
So now, despite the fact that the Indian government placed a temporary band on COVID-19 vaccine exports, AstraZeneca threatens to sue Serum Institute of India (SII). The rollercoaster ride associated with AstraZeneca and the Oxford vaccine just continues on with its dips, twists and turns. As it turns out with spikes of cases in India, the halt plus the need to prioritize domestic production leading to a huge national vaccination drive in India. Apparently, the government there broadened its immunization drive, even easing eligibility criteria for those 45 and above in age starting April 1, reports Economic Times.
SII Point of View
A critically important player in the production of vaccines generally for worldwide distribution, and for coronavirus vaccines especially, a domestic crisis has pulled even this stalwart globally-minded producer into local fulfillment at least temporarily. Sources affiliated with SII shared with the Economic Times that they’re confident this supply squeeze would end soon, that is a limited vaccine supply and soaring demand due to the large pandemic wave now sweeping through India.
According to an entry in the Hindustan Times, CEO Adar Poonawalla declared, “AstraZeneca has sent us a legal notice (for delays in supplying the vaccine) and the Indian government is also aware of that. I cannot comment on the legal notice as it is confidential, but we are examining all avenues to amicably manage and resolve legal disputes over contractual obligations that Serum Institute is not able to fulfil due to its prioritization of Indian supplies. Everyone has been very understanding so far. The government is evaluating what it can do to resolve the issue.”
The billionaire told the television network NDTV that his company’s production capacity is “very stressed, to put it frankly” due to the spike in cases. Perhaps the contracts SII and AstraZeneca didn’t contemplate the crisis levels in India? While Poonwalla’s company was paid to produce and export his national government (and perhaps his national interest) compels him to produce and distribute domestically for now, declaring, “The globe needs this vaccine and we are prioritizing the needs of India at the moment and we are still short of being able to supply…to every Indian that needs it.”