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‘Everything falls on my shoulders’: Poonawalla on increasing Covid vaccine pressure in India

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonwalla, on Saturday said that he is under immense mounting pressures over the production of Coronavirus vaccines to meet the ever-increasing demand in India, as the country wades through a devastating second wave of the pandemic.

Also Read :- Over 2.11 crore COVID vax vails available with states, UTs and private hospitals: Centre

In his first media interaction ever since he was provided with ‘Y’ category security by the Indian government earlier this week, Poonawalla told in an interview about receiving aggressive calls from some of the most influential people in India, demanding supplies of ‘Covishield’, the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that the Serum Institute is producing in India.

The 40-year-old entrepreneur said that pressure is largely behind his decision to fly to London to be with his wife and children.

“I’m staying here (London) for an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone…I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do,” Poonawalla told in his exclusive media interview.

“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” he said.

Also Read :- Two shots helped in preventing deaths by 95% in Covid 2nd wave: ICMR

The businessman also indicated that his move to stay in London is also linked to business plans to expand vaccine manufacturing to countries outside India, which may include the likes of the UK. “There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days,” he said, when asked about Britain as one of the production bases outside India.

As per reports, by the time the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in January this year, the Serum Institute of India had increased its annual production capacity from 1.5 to 2.5 billion doses at a cost of USD 800 million, and stockpiled 50 million doses of Covishield.

The company began exporting Covishield to 68 countries, including Britain, as India seemed to have been over the worse, until the situation worsened in recent weeks.

“We’re really gasping for all the help we can get,” Poonawalla said in the interview.

“I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad,” he said.

Also Read :- Confident of getting EMA's approval for Covishield in a month: SII's Poonawalla

On the charge of profiteering as the cost of Covishield was recently hiked, he termed it as “totally incorrect” and added that Covishield will still be “the most affordable vaccine on the planet” even at a higher price.

“We have done the best we can without cutting corners or doing anything wrong or profiteering. I’ll wait for history to judge,” he said.

“I’ve always had this sense of responsibility to India and the world because of the vaccines we were making, but never have we made a vaccine so needed in terms of saving lives,” he further said.

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