Amidst the debate over shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and export of vaccines from India, Serum Institute of India (SII) on Tuesday said the company never exported vaccines at the cost of people in India, and it remains committed to the country's vaccination programme.
SII is manufacturing Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield in India. Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin were the first two COVID-19 vaccines to be granted approval in India in January for use in country's vaccination programme.
In a statement, SII said it is ramping up its manufacturing and continues to prioritise India. "We would like to reiterate that we have never exported vaccines at the cost of people in India and remain committed to do everything we can in support of the vaccination drive in the country."
The vaccine maker's statement comes at a time when India is witnessing the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, the opposition has been targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government for exporting vaccines earlier this year.
Explaining its rationale for exporting Covishield vaccines, SII said it had a large stockpile of vaccine doses in January 2021, when India's vaccination drive had just started and number of COVID-19 cases recorded were at an all-time low. "At that stage, most people including health experts believed that India was turning the tide on the pandemic."
"Around the same time, many other countries in the world were facing an acute crisis and were in desperate need of help. Our government extended support wherever possible during this period. It is this spirit that had initially led to cooperation between countries when the virus first emerged in the beginning of 2020," the statement said.
SII said India is amongst the two most populous countries in the world and vaccination drive for such a large population cannot be completed in 2-3 months as there are several factors and challenges involved. It would take 2-3 years to fully vaccinate the entire world population, SII added.
The vaccine maker also pointed out that the pandemic is not limited by geographic or political boundaries. "We will not be safe till everyone globally is able to defeat this virus at a global scale. Further, as part of our global alliances, we also had commitments to COVAX, so that they could distribute the vaccines globally to end the pandemic."
COVAX is an alliance, co-led by the World Health Organisation, among others, working for equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
SII said the cooperation between countries forms the basis for it getting access to technology and aid for healthcare. Besides, it said exports of vaccines to other countries by India has in turn led to support for India amidst the second wave.
Despite getting emergency use approval two months after pharma companies in US, SII said it has delivered 200 million doses, and the company ranks amongst the top three in the world in terms of total doses produced and delivered. It said it hopes to start delivering vaccine doses to COVAX and other countries by the end of this year.
"We have been working with the government tirelessly to do our best for humanity and will continue in the same spirit," SII said, adding that it is time for everyone to unite and work together to defeat the pandemic.